Groundwork in Place For Wisconsin Gathering

by Christina Hitchcock, Chelsey Dumond, and Brigitte Jones

Official Notice

Pursuant to the provisions of Section 3b of Article IX (National Convention) of the BVA National Bylaws, all members of the Blinded Veterans Association in good standing are hereby notified that the BVA 71st National Convention will be held at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel and the Milwaukee Convention Center, 509 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203, from Sunday, August 21, through Friday, August 26, 2015.

The Hilton Milwaukee City Center

The Hilton Milwaukee City Center is the largest hotel in Milwaukee with 729 guest rooms and more than 33,000 square feet of meeting rooms and event space that includes four distinct ballrooms, an abundance of breakout space, and an outdoor green space. The hotel is connected via skywalk to the city’s convention center, where the Association will hold additional convention events and activities. Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee.

Periodic updates regarding the convention will be posted regularly to the Convention page on the BVA website,

BVA National Headquarters will host the 71st National Convention.

BVA members in good standing who wish to vote by proxy may request a special proxy form by writing or calling the Administrative Director at BVA National Headquarters no later than 45 days before the opening day of the 71st National Convention. Because the convention’s opening day is August 21, the deadline for requesting a proxy form is July 8, 2016.

In compliance with Section 2c of Article IX, the proxy form must be completed and returned to BVA National Headquarters (Attn: Administrative Director). To be considered valid, the envelope containing the form must be postmarked no later than 21 days before the opening date of the convention. The due date is therefore August 1, 2016.

Be Part of BVA’s 71st!

BVA invites its members, guests, exhibitors, and volunteers alike to join us for our 71st National Convention. It is time now to begin planning your trip to the “City of Festivals” in order to reserve your space at the most economical rates. Evidence points to this convention as the best ever! We are seeking additional exhibitors, speakers, and professionals in both the veteran and visually impaired communities to share their knowledge. We also welcome knowledge from all of our attendees. Therefore, do not be afraid to share your ideas for possible general educational sessions, breakout sessions on how to use technological devices, and exhibitor presentations that you would find interesting.

We are also asking those who are confident in their presentation skills to be our instructors. If there is a device that you have been using, and you have a solid understanding of how it functions and would feel confident in teaching these functions to others, please let us know. For example, are you a great iPhone user and know some tricks of the trade? If so, please share your secrets with your fellow blinded veterans during a half-hour workshop.

As an organization of blinded veterans helping blinded veterans, our goal for this convention is to empower all in attendance with the most up-to-date knowledge, tools, and skills that will enable them to achieve their goals.

Sessions will not be limited solely to instruction regarding technology. Please also consider sharing that which your regional group is doing effectively in your local communities, how you are advocating for your fellow blinded veterans, and how you are overcoming various other challenges in adjusting to vision loss.

As per the request of our membership, we will be holding officer training during the convention. We will also hold a one-hour session on the subject of White Cane Awareness Day. Regional group members are also invited to host workshops on public relations, how to manage group finances, and the innovative ways they are employing to connect with their members.

Please share your knowledge with your fellow BVA members so that we can bring greater awareness to both the veteran and blind community through advocacy and outreach, thus together empowering all blinded veterans.

Individuals interested in leading an educational workshop should contact Christina Hitchcock by the end of February. These sessions will be held during different times of the day on Monday and Tuesday and then again on Friday morning following the Closing Business Session.

Tuesday will also feature the opening of the Exhibit Hall. Last year the convention hosted the largest number of exhibitors ever and looks to continue the increase in exhibitor numbers in Milwaukee. We will close out the week with the traditional Awards Banquet.

Please keep in mind the first annual VIPER Ride, planned for August 21, in making your trip arrangements (see the first entry in Around BVA, pp. 18-19). Following this event there will be ample time to enjoy the city in other ways as well. Popularly known as the backdrop for the show, “Happy Days,” Milwaukee has been selected by the Boston Globe as a must see travel destination for 2016. Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin and the fifth largest city in the Midwestern United States.

Despite its size, do not allow Milwaukee’s size to intimidate you. The city is a beautiful compilation of charm, hospitality, and a small-town neighborhood feel. Its easy layout and extensive para-transit system will make navigating the city a cinch. Travel to Milwaukee is also a breeze as General Mitchell International Airport is but a 15-minute taxi ride from the Hilton. For those who prefer to travel via train or bus, the stations are just two blocks from the hotel.

Historic Milwaukee City Hall

Historic Milwaukee City Hall is a potential stop for convention attendees exploring the city. Finished in 1895, the unique structure was at the time the tallest habitable building in the United States. Its bell tower at 353 feet high also made it the second tallest structure in the nation, behind only the Washington Monument. The Hall was Milwaukee's tallest building until completion of the First Wisconsin Center in 1973. Photo courtesy of Visit Milwaukee.

Once again, please seriously consider joining us in Milwaukee! Registration will be open in May. BVA members wishing to receive a registration packet by email or via the U.S. Postal Service should contact BVA National Headquarters. It has been six decades since BVA last held a convention in Wisconsin. We look forward to bringing the 71st National Convention back to the City of Milwaukee after a very long hiatus!

Critical Dates and Deadlines

BVA National Headquarters distributed notices in January regarding nominations for Certificates of Appreciation, the Maas and Diener Awards, and the David L. Schnair Volunteer Service Award. These actions also occurred in compliance with articles within the BVA National Bylaws.

A reminder will be mailed to regional group presidents and secretaries on March 21 regarding the due date for submission of bylaw amendments for consideration at the convention. A mailing to all BVA members in good standing and residing in Districts 3 and 4 will also occur on or before March 25 (150 days leading up to August 21). The mailing will call for nominations for District Director.

Three copies of the credentials form will also be mailed on April 15 to all regional groups.

Both regional groups and individuals should refer to the following timeline in preparing for the convention. Items listed include actions required of the Association’s national headquarters, regional groups, and individuals. Questions can be addressed by calling 800-669-7079. Asterisks indicate actions required by the BVA National Bylaws.

  1. March 21*—National headquarters sends reminder to regional group presidents and secretaries that proposed bylaw amendments to be considered at the 71st National Convention must be postmarked no later than 90 days before the convention (May 24).
  2. March 25 (no later than 150 days before convention)—Mail call for nomination of Directors of Districts 3 and 4 to members in good standing from each of the two districts.
  3. April 15*—Mail credentials forms to regional group presidents, vice presidents, secretaries, and treasurers (three copies each).
  4. April 24*—Nominations for BVA Certificates of Appreciation, the Melvin J. Maas and Irving Diener Awards, and the David L. Schnair Service Award all due at national headquarters.
  5. Mid-May*—71st National Convention pre-registration package prepared and sent to printer.
  6. Mid-May*—71st National Convention proxy forms mailed but only by request to national headquarters Administrative Director.
  7. May 13 (no earlier than 100 days before convention)—Earliest date to mail pre-registration package and official convention notice to potential attendees.
  8. May 24 (no earlier than 90 days before convention)—Earliest date to distribute ballots to Districts 3 and 4.
  9. May 24 (no later than 90 days before convention)—Envelopes containing proposed bylaw amendments must be directed to national headquarters and postmarked.
  10. May 24 (no earlier than 90 days before convention)—Earliest date to mail proposed bylaw amendments to members in good standing.
  11. May 24 (90 days before convention and 60 days following original mail call referred to above)—Nominations for regular elections of Directors of Districts 3 and 4.
  12. June 8 (no later than 75 days before convention)—Latest date to mail pre-registration package and official convention notice from national headquarters.
  13. June 13 (no later than 70 days before convention)—Latest date for national headquarters to mail ballots for regular elections of Directors of Districts 3 and 4.
  14. June 15*—National headquarters mails annual financial report forms (three copies) to treasurers of regional groups.
  15. July 8 (no later than 45 days before convention)—Ballots for regular elections of Directors of Districts 3 and 4 due at national headquarters.
  16. July 8 (no later than 45 days before convention)—Latest date to mail proposed bylaw amendments to members in good standing.
  17. July 13 (no later than 40 days before convention)—Regional group meeting notices to elect convention delegates must be mailed to group members. A copy of the notice must also be mailed to national headquarters at the same time it is mailed to the group membership.
  18. July 18 (35 days before convention)—National headquarters counts election ballots for regular elections of Directors of Districts 3 and 4. 19. August 1 (21 days before convention)—Completed delegate credentials forms and proxy forms must be postmarked no later than midnight.

Convention Awards Remember BVA Stalwarts

Throughout its nearly 70 years of service, BVA has been represented by individuals who seek to serve others before all else. “Blinded veterans helping blinded veterans” is the motto that encompasses what it means to be a part of BVA. Each year we honor several individuals who have gone above and beyond their duty, not only for BVA but for their regional groups and for local members individually.

The Major General Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement, the Irving Diener Award, the David L. Schnair Volunteer Service Award, and Certificates of Appreciation are presented to deserving individuals each year at the convention. While we may be acquainted with the individuals who receive these awards annually, we may not know much about the individuals for whom they are named.

Melvin J. Maas, born in 1898 and a native of Minnesota, served in World War I in a Marine Corps Aviation Unit and later went on to be elected to Congress in 1926, where he would serve continuously, with the exception of one term, until 1944. Major General Maas served in the Marine Corps Reserves as a Colonel during World War II without resigning his Congressional seat, eventually rising to the rank of Major General. He was wounded by bomb fragments that later left him totally blind in 1951.

He was the first ever active duty blind general.

Major General Maas was also Special Advisor to the House Naval Affairs Committee in 1946. From 1947 to 1951, he was Assistant to the Chairman of the Board of the Sperry Corporation in New York City.

In 1952 he found it necessary to retire from the Reserves due to his blindness. Being a man of perseverance, he chose to find new ways to serve his country and during 1954-64 was Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped. During that period he wrote and traveled extensively. He was simultaneously BVA’s National President.

Major General Maas aspired for BVA to become the nation’s positive image of the blind community and the community’s potential.

The Major General Melvin J. Maas award seeks to honor an individual who has contributed to the positive image of the blind community. Recipients of this award are men and women with service-connected blindness who have overcome their disability to become independent in their daily living. In honor of the Major General, nominations should be individuals who have found success in their employment despite their vision loss and helped other blinded veterans find independence as well.

Before his death in 1964, Maas was quoted in the New York Times as follows: “A handicapped person who lives up to his potential leads a more successful life than the so‐called normal person who uses only 50 percent of his capabilities.”

The Irving Diener Award seeks to honor those who have made an outstanding commitment to their BVA regional group and the organization as a whole. Irving Diener was a member of the BVA National Advisory Committee and continuously supported BVA. As an individual, Diener sought to empower those who were dedicated to the organization. With BVA’s support, he initiated the award in 1962. The tradition continued with Diener’s daughter, Eleanor Diener Metz. She generously continued to fund the award until her passing in 2004.

Ruth Klein addresses BVA 70th National Convention Awards Banquet attendees as she accepts Irving Diener Award on August 21, 2015 in Louisville.

Ruth Klein addresses BVA 70th National Convention Awards Banquet attendees as she accepts Irving Diener Award on August 21, 2015 in Louisville. 

Without its volunteers, BVA would not be the organization it is today. World War II veteran David L. Schnair was one of BVA’s national pioneers. He affiliated with the New York Regional Group and was a member of the Board of Directors, serving for 41 years. He also worked as a VA accredited Volunteer National Service Officer (VNSO) and managed the New York VNSO office in Manhattan. David was a major contributor to the early BVA Field Service Program and in that capacity enhanced the lives of many blinded veterans.

At left, Ronald White, 2015 recipient of David Schnair Award, with then BVA National President Mark Cornell.

At left, Ronald White, 2015 recipient of David Schnair Award, with then BVA National President Mark Cornell.

Presently BVA honors the volunteer efforts of David Schnair through the Volunteer Service Award. Recipients of this award are volunteers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of the national organization and their regional groups. They should have a solid understanding of what it means to serve others and be a spokesperson for the needs of all blinded veterans.

In addition to honoring its own members, BVA also recognizes the efforts of individuals, groups, and organizations that have provided outstanding services to the blinded veteran community and/or BVA at the national level. Recipients generally come from the field of blind rehabilitation. The Certificate of Appreciation is in place to acknowledge such service. To be eligible for this award, an individual may not be a BVA member or a relative of a BVA member.

The Maas, Diener, and Schnair Award recipients will be announced and honored this year at the August 26 Awards Banquet. The Certificates of Appreciation will be presented at the Father Carroll Luncheon on August 25. Nominations for these awards are currently being accepted until April 15, 2016. Please contact BVA National Headquarters for information regarding their preparation and submission.

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