Inspirational recognitions, emotional tributes to family members and dedicated professionals, and even a few fond farewells all found their way to the capstone event that brought to an official end the BVA 69th National Convention August 21, 2014, in Sparks, Nevada.
The annual Awards Banquet is considered the final opportunity at each BVA national gathering to enjoy food and drink while mingling with new and old friends. The event began with an hour-long reception and concluded with expressions of appreciation for dedication and sacrifice by BVA members and their regional groups, caregivers, board members and staff, and others who provided support and service to veterans with vision loss throughout the past year.
Valerie Duffy, VIST Coordinator at the Boise, Idaho, VA Medical Center, played her ukulele to illustrate points made at her presentation to the BVAA Auxiliary. The presentation was entitled “83 Things Every Survivor Should Do.” At right, BVAA National President Sandy Krasnodemski.
BVA National Treasurer Paul Mimms received BVA’s highest honor, the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement, at the banquet. The Irving Diener Award was presented to Charles Register of the Southern California Regional Group for outstanding service to the Association while Charles Davis of the Greater Houston Regional Group was honored with the David L. Schnair Award for distinguished voluntary service.
Three regional groups also received recognition at the final event. The Washington State Regional Group earned the coveted Gold Gavel for having added the largest number of new members to their group. The Silver Gavel, presented to the group with the highest percentage of new members, went to the Wisconsin Regional Group. The Bronze Gavel, introduced only last year for the group signing up the largest number of new members previously designated as nonmembers in BVA’s database, was awarded to the Florida Regional Group for the second consecutive year.
Special national award recognitions were given to Dr. George Stocking for his more than four decades of service on the BVA National Board of Directors and Robert Keller for outstanding and lengthy voluntary service in the BVA San Diego, California volunteer office.
Robert Adkins of BVA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Group and Bill Hausinger of the Greater Houston Group arrived bright and early August 21 for front-row seats at the Convention’s Closing Business Session.
The Awards Banquet brought ended an intense week of education and training, business sessions, and informative speeches and presentations. Although opportunities also arose for socializing, recreation, and even relaxation, they were rare for those on whose services and dedication so many of the attendees depended.
“I don’t have even a few seconds during BVA conventions to sit down anywhere and just think,” exclaimed the universally appreciated and longtime Convention Volunteer Coordinator Margarine Beaman with her always recognizable and friendly chuckle. “I lose touch with the outside world when I am doing this—I haven’t even turned on the TV this week!”
Despite her attempts to be in many places at once wherever and whenever she was needed, Margarine once again in 2014 stood ready and willing to respond with a smile and helping hand to every expressed need as she coordinated volunteer efforts. If she was unable to make it happen by herself, she called on and delegated a heavy workload to a reliable cadre of volunteers from throughout the Reno community and even a few from much further away.
Charles Register, Southern California Regional Group, addresses Awards Banquet attendees following reading of the citation that honored him as this year’s Irving Diener Award recipient.
The BVA 69th National Convention attracted 345 total registrants, 148 of whom were blinded veterans. The week began with registrations and check-ins August 16-17. It also included preliminary activities of participants of Operation Peer Support (OPS), an initiative now eight years strong that seeks to connect veterans who have recently lost their sight with those who experienced the same during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or due to an age-related disease.
OPS participants from the United States, accompanied by a family member or friend, introduced themselves at a reception and dinner on August 16. They boarded a bus the next morning for Lake Tahoe, where they enjoyed a day of kayaking courtesy of Team River Runner (TRR). BVA member Tina Lemus, a Sparks resident and TRR official herself, organized the event. That evening the participants welcomed four additional OPS arrivals from Blind Veterans UK at still another reception and dinner.
The convention also brought some 66 exhibitors housed in nearly 40 booths. They featured innovative instruments such as audible currency readers, talking computers, barcode scanners, bioptic telescopes used as eyeglasses, video magnifiers, hand-held libraries of audible information, mobility aids for independent living, audible health monitoring devices such as medical alarms and two-way emergency communicators, and portable Global Positioning System devices. Several exhibitors also addressed interested convention attendees in break-out sessions outside their booths.
BVA National President Mark Cornell and other members of the Board of Directors welcomed attendees to the convention at the annual President’s Reception on the evening of August 18. U.S. Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV-2) appeared at the reception and also offered welcoming remarks.
Newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini addressed the convention on August 19. A full text of Secretary McDonald’s speech is available on the VA website (http://www.va.gov/opa/speeches/2014/08_19_2014.asp) .
Other highlights of the week included the traditional BVA Auxiliary Silent Auction, caucus sessions within the various BVA districts, the unveiling of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s new U.S. Currency Reader, iPhone hands-on demonstration stations, and a Bylaws and Resolutions meeting that considered proposed bylaws and 21 resolutions.
The annual BVA Forum on August 20 featured presentations by the local Toastmasters chapter, Long Beach Blind Rehabilitation Center Low-Vision Optometrist Dr. Sally Dang, VA Blind Rehabilitation Service Director Gale Watson, and Executive Director of the University of Utah Moran Eye Center for Translational Medicine Dr. Gregory Hageman.
Following the forum, BVA member Bill Wedekind, Vietnam veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the annual Father Thomas A. Carroll Memorial Luncheon. Bill, currently a resident of San Antonio, Texas, spoke of life-altering events that began with an explosion as he was inspecting a defensive perimeter while on duty in Vietnam on May 25, 1968 that left him without sight and hands. The luncheon was also highlighted by presentation of BVA Certificates of Appreciation to VA BRS employees Lillie Kennedy of the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center and G.W. Stilwell of the same Philadelphia facility. The two were honored for their recent exemplary service to blinded veterans and their families.
Convention attendees were also treated to a mystery auction during the evening of August 20. They received updates by members of the Field Service Program’s National Service Officers and Director of Government Relations Glenn Minney on August 21. Convention and Project Manager Christina Hitchcock directed a session with regional group officers relating to successful development of a BVA regional group.
Although none of the proposed bylaw amendments passed on the convention floor as proposed, members and delegates voted to change the wording in one of the already existing bylaws. Each of the 21 proposed resolutions were approved.
Delegates and other convention attendees the Closing Business Session approved Louisville, Kentucky, as the city to host the Association’s 70th National Convention. The host hotel and dates for the 2015 gathering will be announced in the near future.