National Press Club

35 Club Members Receive Vivian Awards

January 14, 2009

Remarks by President Sylvia Smith Tuesday as 35 Club members received awards for their spirit of generosity in volunteering time and talent to the NPC in 2008:

Thirty three years ago, board member Vivian Vahlberg suggested creating a Press Club awards program that would recognize members who had done the most work for the Club over the previous year. The formal title is the Hard Work and Inspiration Award but has always been informally known as the “Vivian.” And it has always been one of the special pleasures of presidents to have an opportunity to publicly thank the stellar volunteers of our club.

It’s traditional that recipients of the Vivian awards receive a certificate. But this year, I decided to give a different kind of thank you. This one you will be able to look at every morning under your cornflakes and recall that your efforts for the National Press Club are much appreciated. (Recipients were presented with a set of the Club's laminated placemats.)

Three people were involved with this project: Noel St. John, Muriel Dobbin and Bill Hickman.

Noel took my concept for revised Reliable Source placemats and made it a stunning visual display of NPC history. The photo versions were so gorgeous, I wanted to expand that concept to include the signatures of some of our prominent speakers.

Bill Hickman spent hours looking over the 3,500-some signatures and culling them down to a reasonable number as finalists. Then THOSE mats were so attractive, I wanted to laminate them so people could buy them as sets for their kitchen or patio tables.

Muriel Dobbin offered to find and vet laminators – not the sort of businesses most of us have in our Rolodexes – and she found a nearby business that was very easy to work with. Noel, Bill and Muriel share the credit for helping me achieve one of my goals this year: Revel in our history.

Unless you’ve been close to the operations of the Speakers Committee – and that means chairing it, being president or being Melinda Cooke – you have no idea of the amount of time and judgment that are demanded of this committee’s leadership.

As chairwoman and vice chairwoman, Angela Greiling Keane and Melissa Charbonneau produced for us a fine speaker series this year. News was made at the Rev. Wright luncheon, by Vice President Cheney, Billy Joel, multiple heads of state – the most we have had in any one year for quite some time – Cabinet secretaries and business luminaries. And as if Angela doesn’t have enough to do, she is an active member of the Membership Committee, offering her valuable insights from her years as chairwoman of that committee.

Peg Simpson and Jamila Bey gamely stepped in to chair our newest committee, created midyear. I put out a call for Club members interested in freelancing to meet – and the McClendon Room was filled. It became obvious that the Club wasn’t doing nearly enough for our freelance members, a group whose size was growing dramatically as a result of changes in the industry.

Peggy and Jamila accepted my request to co-chair this group, and they immediately set up a series of brain-storming sessions that led to regular idea-exchange sessions and programming on tips and techniques for freelancers. They helped demonstrate to our Club members who are undergoing job transition that Club membership is not a luxury to be discarded when the checkbook is tight.

This year’s Book Fair drew 1,000 attendees and raised $18,000 for the Eric Friedheim Library. The Book and Author Committee’s selection of authors for the book raps and wine dinners was top-notch. If that’s not enough of a time commitment, B&A Committee chairman Andrew Schneider serves as an extremely active member of the Speakers Committee and was responsible for one of our liveliest luncheons, the Billy Joel program. And he e-mails frequently with speaker suggestions and usually with an offer to help woo the potential speaker. Unfailingly cheerful and cooperative, Andrew is the personification of a Club volunteer.

The Awards Dinner this year was flawless in large measure to Mark Schoeff. As chairman of the Awards Committee, he recruited and kept tabs on dozens of judging panels. It’s no mean feat, as I can attest from personal experience. I was a pretty darn good Awards Committee chair, but Mark beat me by a mile. In addition, when the Newsmakers Committee chairmanship came open unexpectedly a few months ago, Mark ably stepped into that job. He got up to speed quickly and almost immediately insisted that the committee focus on quality Newsmakers, not quantity. As a result, we have seen the news value of those programs increase dramatically.

Three members of the Book & Author Committee: Eleanor Herman, Barbara Bird and Joe Motheral. Eleanor has been a priceless resource to the Book & Author Committee as an introducer, reporter, wine dinner vice chair, Book Fair committee member and recording secretary at B&A Committee meetings. Her own Book Event, which took place in August, was the best attended this year and was the model of what a Book Event should be.

In addition to her work on the Book Fair Committee, Barbara has shown tremendous skill and dedication in development work. She and Eleanor worked with a donor who made generous contributions to both the Book Fair and the Fourth Estate Award Dinner, handling with aplomb complications that invariably arise with a new relationship, tracking down donors willing to commit $30,000 Eleanor and Barbara also helped enliven the Club picnic by producing everything for Book Bag Bingo, a hit with kids and adults alike.

Joe was another stand-out in the Book and Author Committee this year, particularly in assisting the new chairman with a lot of balls he had to juggle as well as concerted effort for the Book Fair.

The National arts program was a rip-roaring success this year, and it’s in large part because of the work of Pat Sherr. Club members, staff and family members of each entered their works. As we looked at the result, it appeared easy: Hang a few pictures on the display boards. Of course, there is so much more involved, but Pat made it seem effortless. The National Arts Program – founded by an NPC member, by the way – is one of things that helps make the Club a Club.

Steve Pain is our most active international member. He lives and works in London, but he is in the US frequently. He has conducted dozens of meetings with our staff and the board to assist the Club with its branding statement, strategic plan, marketing ideas and execution. I’m most appreciative of Steve’s long-distance dedication to the Club.

Lorna Aldrich and Bill Miller deserve our thanks and recognition for the work they did this year on the Record. As you know, communication with Club members is undergoing a transition. And as you also know, change is always hard. In the spring, Lorna and Bill gave me many months’ notice that they wanted to enjoy their respective retirements more, traveling and such. But because they were the only Club volunteers who would commit as much time as it takes to produce the Record, we were in a bind.

Repeated calls for more volunteers came up short. And when we came to the Labor Day time that Lorna and Bill had specified, the Wire was fledgling and there were no Record volunteers. So Lorna and Bill volunteered to continue their many hours-per-issue work on the Record, which we cut back to twice a month. They could have held to their Labor Day deadline, but Lorna and Bill showed true NPC spirit by agreeing to continue in the saddle, and I am most grateful.

Steven Sloan and Christine Dell’Amore continued the creative, expansive approach to the Young Members Committee as its early leaders, among them incoming President Donna Leinwand. The committee is almost a club within a club in that it offers professional development and social activities. But under its talented leadership, YM Committee has not lost sight of the fact that it’s part of a larger organization. Its leadership has consistently gone on to assume roles in other committees and even the Club as a whole. Steven and Christine deserve Vivian Awards for the speakers, panel discussions, professional development and social activity planning they produced this year for the very cohort we need to become deeply entrenched in the NPC.

On the other end of the age spectrum we have the Silver Owls Committee and its leadership, Don Larrabee and John Cosgrove. John and Don singlehandedly produce two major events each year – the spring and fall Hoots. They are interesting and fun, and they are a guaranteed way to reach some members who may be in older years, less inclined or able to come to the Club on a regular basis but still retain fondness for it. The leaders of the Club rightly focus on programming for the bulk of its membership: currently employed journalists and communications professionals. But we rely on John and Don to help us ensure that retired members aren’t forgotten and are kept as part of the integral fabric of our club.

Marc Wojno is Mr. Do It All. He chaired the History Committee this year, a year I asked for a different direction and more emphasis on the Club’s history. He and his committee produced events in each named room to in some way honor or explore the significance of the journalistic icons they were named for. He has been an active member of the Broadcast Committee, producing shows for the NPR slot on XM Satellite Radio. And, of course, he remains the voice of Pub Quiz, a delightful and welcomed addition to the bar scene.

Darlene Shields has steered the Photo Committee with enthusiasm, creativity and energy. From the annual members photo exhibit – which gets such great reviews – to the fascinating speakers at the committee’s monthly meetings, Darlene has worked to give members of that committee a rich Club experience. But her Club involvement doesn’t stop there. She donated Barack Obama and John McCain, who became election-time fixtures and ended up being lotteried-off during our election night party. She coordinated the first-ever members photo exhibit on our web site. Along with vice chairman Ed Hazelwood, Darlene was a volunteer extraordinaire. Ed produced programming for the committee’s monthly meetings and was instrumental in the members photo exhibit.

Four years ago, the International Correspondents Committee was moribund. Today it is one of the most active committees of the Club and reaches out to a constituency that often might feel less at home in an organization that is, obviously, dominated by Americans. But chairman Myron Belkind has done a superb job of reaching out to our international members, organizing programming to appeal to them but also to other Club members with an international interest – and not just journalists. It was under his direction, too, that the committee began tapping its own talent for programming, and now the monthly procedure is to have a brief business meeting followed by an interesting presentation from one or more of the committee members. What a great way to involve more people in the Club. His committee also organizes social events that are well attended and especially help our international members feel connected to fellow Club members.

The membership committee is a non-glitzy committee that does its work out of the spotlight. But it’s a very important function, and it demands a chairwoman who is organized, reliable and has unerring judgment. Look that up in the dictionary, and you will find Lisa Zagaroli. For all her painstaking care with the hundreds of membership applications the Club received his year, Lisa is a 2009 Vivian.

All 400 and some people who attended our glitzy and stupendous centennial party have Lori Russo to thank. I must have received 200 comments during and after the party about how wonderful it was… and just one – and I mean that literally – was critical. This is, by nature, a club of critics, so 1 of 200 is nothing short of amazing. Lori also chaired the 2008 presidential inaugural party, which was a blast. She brings a can-do spirit and a commitment to the event’s budget when she takes on a project. For a miser like me, that’s most welcome.

Ed Lewis was a mentee of Frank Holeman, and he channels Frank’s spirit through so much of what he does for the Club. It’s nice to think the Club survives on dues and air, but that’s not the case. And it is especially not true for the Eric Friedheim Library, the Club’s charitable arm. Ed has helped steer the library in getting on more solid footing as an organization that must seek outside funding. But he hasn’t just been an armchair adviser. Ed has come through for the Club by obtaining many contributions, including extremely generous donations this year from his employer, Toyota.

I want to take note of three Club members who have enlarged the National Press Club’s reach and voice through radio. Ralph Malvik volunteered to lead the XM Radio team three years ago and since then has worked tirelessly to organize volunteers and create the branding sound and concept behind "From the National Press Club" for XM, iTunes and the club's web site. Under his leadership, the team of volunteers has never missed a weekly deadline and has created a variety of professional-quality programs, ranging from roundtable discussions, original productions as well as those including club events, such as NPC luncheons. Ralph was also instrumental in establishing a relationship between the NPC and the Cosmos Club, where he is chairman of the House Committee.

Mike Hempen, has been with the Broadcast Committee since the beginning and has been a leader of the XM radio team. He has been a lead producer of roundtable programs, hosted by former NPC president Rick Dunham. Even when working the overnight shift for AP Broadcast when sleeping in might have seemed a more attractive option, Mike has always made producing the weekly show a priority, delivering top-notch content on a regular basis. His pleasant and professional attitude and depth of experience makes Mike a joy to work with.

Phil Chordas’s experience as a professional voiceover talent, as well as freelance audio specialist working for television networks has been critical for leading the NPC's technical effort in producing the weekly radio program. Phil has been generous with his time, providing crucial expertise in creating a new studio space for the XM Team, while lending his impressive voice for the program's open and close. Thanks to Phil's expansive knowledge of audio production, the team has easily meshed with the professional staff in the NPC's Broadcast Operations Center, enabling dependable production of a high-quality production on a regular basis.

The National Press Club’s voice on first amendment and free press issues is louder and more respected than any other organization. But knowing when to use that voice is essential, and Wes Pippert led the team this year. The committee discussed issues as they arose, advised me on whether to make a statement on behalf of the Club and drafted the comments. In addition, Wes stood out among committee chairs in his ability to bring non-resident members into the committee structure by relying on email meetings and discussions.

Each year, the Club receives dozens and dozens of applications from deserving high school seniors who hope to win an NPC college scholarship. Then there are the dozens and dozens of deserving grad school attendees who hope to receive a one-year stipend. For Mary Clare Jalonick and Kristen Jensen, chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the Scholarship Committee, it’s a labor of love coordinate the judges, and pore through the applications. I’m not sure whether the stress should be on labor or love, but it is both, and Mary Clare and Kristen do a superb job.

In tough economic times, Pat Schoeni and her Travel Committee did a great job of finding affordable trips, including several to more exotic locales. She ratcheted up promotions and was an early adapter to the Wire to spread the word on this great member benefit.

Arlen Withers has to be the most diplomatic man in the Club. He runs the House Committee meetings with serenity despite some testy opinions about Reliable Source desserts or the need –or lack of – for handtowels in the rest rooms. The food, drink and general ambiance of the Club is vital to its spirit. Were Arlen – or someone very much like him – not at the helm of the House Committee, I suspect we would find this a less convivial place. So we are lucky and grateful for Arlen’s volunteerism.