For the past four years, The Chronicle has honored some remarkable people in this community with our annual Bezonki awards.
This year, we celebrated the 2014 winners with an open house on Aug. 15. The event was admittedly bittersweet, coming a week after our announcement that we plan to close this publication on Sept. 2, 2014.
But the awards are forward-looking, as well as an opportunity to recognize and honor the foundations that are being built to make our community strong. And this year’s winners are exceptional: Ryan Burns, the energy behind Ignite Ann Arbor; Linh and Dug Song, a couple committed to community-building; the Finding Your Political Voice program at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative; Mary Jo Callan, a leader in Washtenaw County government; developer Tom Fitzsimmons; and Jeannine Palms, on behalf of the many groups she’s a part of in the Buhr Park neighborhood.
Like the individuals and organizations that receive these awards, each of the six physical Bezonkis is unique, made in part with bits salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – a nod to 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. Until this year, each winner of a Bezonki has been a steward of the physical award for a year. Winners in the past year hand it off to the next year’s winners. Our hope has been that the awards create connections year after year between people in the community – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.
You can learn more about our past winners in The Chronicle’s archives. They’re an amazing group.
But as The Chronicle comes to a close, we have a new charge to this year’s winners. We’ve asked that they take responsibility for passing along their Bezonki to highlight the great work of others, as they encounter it in the coming months or years. We further asked that they convey this same message to the next steward of Bezonki, whoever that might be – so that the awards continue to create positive connections throughout our community. We’ve created an Ann Arbor LocalWiki page to keep track of the lineage.
Or maybe they’ll just stay on the shelves of this year’s winners – that would be fine, too. They deserve it.
2014 Bezonki Awards: Ryan Burns
Among many other things, Ryan Burns is the driving force behind Ignite Ann Arbor, an event that’s been held eight times since 2009. It’s been described as a more democratic, less arrogant form of TED talks – funny, friendly five-minute talks by local residents sharing their expertise and insights. Ryan has created a popular venue for showcasing our community, in all its adorkable charm.
He’s an engineer who’s also on the board of A2Geeks, a nonprofit that promotes the local tech community.
Ryan received the Bezonki from Paul Courant, one of last year’s winners – an economist, former University of Michigan dean of libraries and provost, and a geek in his own right.
To Ryan Burns: In recognition of his efforts to highlight the creative energy of this community, reminding us that almost everyone has something to teach, and something to learn.
Previous stewards of this Bezonki: Trevor Staples (2011), Ann Arbor District Library digital archiving team (2012) and Paul Courant (2013).
2014 Bezonki Awards: Linh & Dug Song
Linh Song and Dug Song have official job titles – Linh is executive director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation and teaches international social work at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Dug is a tech entrepreneur who among other things is co-founder and CEO of Duo Security. He also created the Tech Brewery, an incubator for technologists, entrepreneurs and start-up technology firms.
But it’s their deep commitment to their community that makes this couple truly remarkable, on top of their professional accomplishments. In addition to raising a family, their volunteer work spans support for the new Ann Arbor skatepark, to helping organize their neighborhood’s Memorial Day parade, to serving on boards for several nonprofits.
It’s their support of the Neutral Zone that connects Linh and Dug to last year’s winner, Lisa Dengiz, whose community work includes co-founding that nonprofit for teens.
To Dug and Linh Song: In recognition of their individual and joint efforts that help make our community stronger, smarter and a more creatively playful place to live.
2014 Bezonki Awards: Finding Your Political Voice
“Finding Your Political Voice” is a program located at the Arrowwood Hills Cooperative on Pontiac Trail in Ward 1. Its goal is to educate residents about issues and candidates, and to develop informed voters who can participate in their community at the local, state and federal levels. This year, for example, they hosted a forum in June for candidates in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for city council.
The idea of giving people the tools they need to become engaged citizens is one that The Chronicle embraces. This kind of grassroots education could be a model for other neighborhoods throughout the city.
James Daniel accepted the award on behalf of the program. He received it from Linda Diane Feldt, one of last year’s winners and another terrific community builder.
To Finding Your Political Voice: In recognition of their contributions to create more informed voters and better citizens to improve our community.
2014 Bezonki Awards: Mary Jo Callan
Whenever someone mentions a cool project that involves Washtenaw County or Ann Arbor city government, Mary Jo Callan is usually involved or leading the effort – affordable housing, funding for nonprofits, fostering the local food sector, creating ways to invest in our local economy, and much more.
As director of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, she is the least bureaucratic bureaucrat we know – someone who works to answer “yes” when asked for help, within the confines of a sometimes maddening labyrinth of federal, state and local regulations.
Mary Jo’s leadership in the county is one way she’s connected to last year’s winner, Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.
To Mary Jo Callan: In recognition of your patience, good humor, intellect and mastery of navigating the political terrain to make this community a better place to live and work.
2014 Bezonki Awards: Tom Fitzsimmons
It’s fair to say that Ann Arbor generally isn’t in love with developers. We’ve sat through countless meetings that draw concerned residents, protesting developments either downtown or in the neighborhoods. Despite that, Tom Fitzsimmons has consistently brought forward projects that not only don’t draw residents’ ire – they’re often praised.
When the planning commission reviewed his latest project, a condominium development on Kingsley Lane, not one person came to speak against it at the public hearing. We can tell you: This is not the norm. Maybe it’s because Tom grew up here that he’s managed to quietly imbue new buildings with the characteristics of existing Ann Arbor that people love. That’s no small feat.
Tom received his Bezonki from the 2013 winner Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, a nonprofit that’s doing significant work to improve our community.
To Tom Fitzsimmons: In recognition of his ability and willingness to create new developments that honor the context of the past – and not totally piss off the masses.
2014 Bezonki Awards: Jeannine Palms
When we told Jeannine that she’d be receiving a Bezonki, she immediately asked whether it instead could be awarded to everyone involved in projects that have strengthened the Buhr Park neighborhood. Here’s what she wrote: “For me, seeing a team or a group, instead of just an individual, working in various capacities to make a difference in their community would allow others to see themselves being involved. They don’t have to take a lead role; they can be part of a team. Also, if those who are already part of the team are recognized, they get a chance to be acknowledged and appreciated in a larger framework. They may be inspired to do more!”
We hope it’s clear from that why we’re honoring Jeannine – as well as all those involved in the Cobblestone Farm Market, the Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow Project and its new extension, the Buhr Food Forest.
So on their behalf, Jeannine received the Bezonki that was given last year to Dan Ezekiel, an educator and activist who knows the power of a collective effort. Dan couldn’t attend our open house, so 2011 Bezonki winner Yousef Rabhi – current chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners who worked on the Wet Meadow Project when he was a kid – gave Jeannine the award.
To Jeannine Palms and all the volunteers who’ve contributed countless hours on the Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow Project, the Cobblestone Farm Market, and other efforts in the Buhr neighborhood: Thanks for making our community a better place, and for showing us how the power of one is magnified when people join together for a common cause.
Scenes from The Chronicle’s 2014 Bezonki Reception
Our Aug. 15 festivities were held at the Zingerman’s Events on Fourth space and included teeter tottering, a song by our friend Chris Buhalis, treats from Hello! Ice Cream, and a masterful interactive experience from Donald Harrison of 7 Cylinders Studio – the Chronicle of Bezonkia, using images from artist Alvey Jones.
Here’s a window into The Chronicle of Bezonkia:
And here’s a sampling of images from the event. Unless otherwise noted, photos of the evening are by Ben Weatherston.