Since we launched The Chronicle in 2008, we’ve met many remarkable people.
And for the past three years, we’ve thanked a few of them with our annual Bezonki awards.
This year’s winners are an extraordinary group: Derrick Jackson of the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office; community activist Lisa Dengiz; teacher and environmentalist Dan Ezekiel; the nonprofit Ann Arbor Active Against ALS; Paul Courant of the University of Michigan; and Linda Diane Feldt, an author and holistic health practitioner who’s one of The Chronicle’s most prolific and poetic Stopped.Watched contributors. I’ll tell you more about them in a bit.
We honored these folks at a reception on Aug. 9, when they received the physical Bezonki awards. Each of the six Bezonkis is unique, made in part with bits salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – a totem of our profession’s past. They were crafted by local artist Alvey Jones, whose Bezonki cartoons are published monthly in The Chronicle.
The awards are unique in another way. Each winner of a Bezonki is a steward of the physical award for a year. Winners in the past year hand it off to the next year’s winners. This year the hand-off took place at the Aug. 9 reception held at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. Our hope is that the awards create connections year after year between people in the community – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.
At our annual receptions, we also hope to introduce attendees to new experiences. And we try to have some fun. We’re an online publication, but this year we tipped our hat to journalism’s heritage by making “pressman’s caps” out of newsprint. So in the photos below, you’ll see many of our guests wearing their own. [If you'd like to make one yourself, you can download the instructions here.]
This year we also invited local artist/inventor Michael Flynn to display his “cooperative phonograph” to our event – a four-foot stainless steel spinning disk that’s truly a work of art. Using a card as the “needle,” you can pick up sounds from the ridges that he’s cut into the disk’s edge. One of the tracks was a repetition of the phrase “Love is all you need.” That’s fitting, because as we celebrate five years of Chronicling, Dave Askins and I are also celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary today. It’s getting better all the time.
But on Aug. 9, the main point of our reception was to honor a few of the many people who help make this community a special place. So please join me in celebrating the 2013 Bezonki winners!
2013 Bezonki Awards: Derrick Jackson
I first met Derrick Jackson when he was director of elections for Washtenaw County. At the time I didn’t realize that he also had been a case study in making every vote count. He ran for the Ypsilanti Township board of trustees in 2004, and lost by one vote. He shares that one-vote distinction with former Bezonki winner Yousef Rabhi, who is now chair of the county board of commissioners.
Today, Derrick is director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, where he brings his background in social work to bear on helping change the culture of our local criminal justice system.
Derrick is connected to last year’s winner, Jeff Micale, through their elections work – Jeff oversees Ann Arbor’s absentee voter count board.
To Derrick Jackson: In recognition of his humor, grace and thoughtful civic engagement, both professionally and personally, to make our community safer, stronger, and more compassionate.
2013 Bezonki Awards: Lisa Dengiz
Lisa Dengiz is one of those people in this community who helps reduce degrees of separation. If you don’t know her directly, you almost certainly know someone who does, and who will quickly describe how much they admire and respect her work. She’s probably best known as co-founder of the Neutral Zone teen center, and more recently as the founding board chair for the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, which gives micro-grants to groups and individuals.
Lisa was nominated for a Bezonki by Joan Martin, who worked with Lisa 25 years ago to start the Ecology Center’s pesticide task force. It’s that work to protect our environment that connects her to last year’s winner, Roger Rayle, who’s a leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water and member of Washtenaw County’s Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD).
To Lisa Dengiz: In recognition of her tireless, creative contributions to build organizations that help our community excel in serious and seriously awesome ways.
2013 Bezonki Awards: Ann Arbor Active Against ALS
This group of volunteers began their work inspired by one person with Lou Gehrig’s disease – Bob Schoeni, known to many as Coach Bob. Ann Arbor Active Against ALS is a cause, to raise money to fight ALS. What’s remarkable about A2A3? For this organization, “cause” is not a noun – it’s a verb. It causes people to do remarkable things. Like lift 1,000 pounds, run a virtual marathon on a treadmill, pedal a bicycle between the Michigan State football stadium and the Big House, interrupt a perfectly pleasant 5K run by eating a Twinkie, then proving to former city parks director Ron Olson that the Twinkie really is “all gone” before continuing, or dive into the English Channel and swim across, then back again.
They received the Bezonki from last year’s winner, Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, one of the most active people I know. She’s a tireless advocate for the disabled community, for diversity of all kinds, and for fighting discrimination wherever she finds it.
To Ann Arbor Active Against ALS: In recognition of their creative efforts to raise awareness about ALS by causing people to be active. Their work is an inspiration, reminding us that action is the best response to adversity.
2013 Bezonki Awards: Dan Ezekiel
Dan Ezekiel’s commitment to the environment and his community has taken many forms over the years, from helping start Recycle Ann Arbor in the ‘70s, to his day job as “Mr. Ezekiel,” the science teacher at Forsythe Middle School, to his tenure as a founding member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission.
You might also see Dan riding his bike around town – he likes to describe the location of greenbelt properties in terms of how long it would take to get there by bike. It’s that cycling connection that links Dan to last year’s winner, the nonprofit Common Cycle.
Dan was out of town on the night of our awards presentation, so his Bezonki was accepted by Barry Lonik, a local land preservationist.
To Dan Ezekiel: In recognition of his lifelong commitment to the Ann Arbor community. His work has helped residents understand their impact on the environment, and their role in protecting its land and resources for future generations.
2013 Bezonki Awards: Paul Courant
Paul Courant‘s accomplishments and influence play out on the national and international stage, though he’s grounded in this community. As an economist, scholar, and former University of Michigan provost who recently stepped down as dean of libraries, Paul brings an eclectic perspective to bear on looking at problems and trying to fix them. He’s also extremely funny.
A couple of years ago, I attended a talk that Paul gave as part of TEDxUofM. He told the crowd that he got interested in public policy because he’s interested in making things work better – and that government, judiciously applied, can be a vehicle for doing that. Paul is retiring as dean of libraries but will continue teaching. I also hope he’ll consider how he might judiciously apply his own time in local government.
Paul is connected to last year’s winner, the Ann Arbor District Library’s digital archiving team, in an obvious way – they all miss card catalogs.
To Paul Courant: In recognition of his intellectual curiosity and international reach, his thoughtful insights on questions of public policy, and his belief – despite occasional evidence to the contrary – that government can be a force for making our lives better.
2013 Bezonki Awards: Linda Diane Feldt
The Chronicle includes a regular feature that we call Stopped.Watched. Anyone can contribute these brief vignettes, which are simple observations of what’s happening in our community, logged as people move about in the routine of their daily lives. By honoring Linda Diane Feldt – who has raised these items to an art form – this Bezonki is also a nod to all of our Stopped.Watched correspondents, and a thanks for stopping and watching the world as it passes by.
Linda’s powers of observation are reflected in much of her work – as a writer, teacher, urban wildcrafter, holistic health practitioner and more. You may have seen her walking around the city, usually with her dog Nala, stopping to talk to the many people who know her and the many people who will know her soon. Her compassion and deep sense of community are inspiring.
Her Bezonki was presented by last year’s winner, Jim Toy, a long-time activist for the LGBT community – the Jim Toy Community Center, located in Braun Court, is a tribute to his lifelong work. And in one of those unintentional connections that I’ve come to expect from the Bezonkis, it turns out that Linda was a student in a class that Jim taught decades ago at Community High School.
To Linda Diane Feldt: In recognition of her ability to see the poetry in the seemingly mundane, to elevate the beauty of our everyday lives, and to share her observations with the rest of us along the way.
Scenes from The Chronicle’s Bezonki Reception
You can read more about last year’s Bezonki winners here, and follow this link to learn about the 2011 recipients. And if there’s a person or organization that you think should be recognized in 2014, please let me know.
Meanwhile, here are some additional photos from our Aug. 9 reception, taken by my former Ann Arbor News colleague, Leisa Thompson.
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