“I wish for you you the best of success, good fortune, and even a little good luck and patience,” said Sam Huhn as he formally presented the Presidential wooden gavel to the newly elected and sworn-in Blinded Veterans Association National President Mark A. Cornell of the South Texas Regional Group.
Mark Cornell, left, accepts Presidential Gavel from outgoing National President Sam Huhn.
The exchange occurred in the waning moments of the final event, the traditional Awards Banquet, of the Association’s 68th National Convention, conducted August 20-23 at the Red Lion at the Park Hotel in Spokane, Washington.
Also elected by the BVA membership earlier in the day and later administered their oath of office were newly elected National Vice President Robert “Dale” Stamper, National Secretary Joe Parker, National Treasurer Paul Mimms, and Interim Director of District 3 Peter Davis.
The banquet also featured the recognition of the aforementioned Joe Parker, formerly BVA’s Director of District 3 and a member of the North Carolina Regional Group, as winner of the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement. It also highlighted Carl Hytinen of Seekonk, Massachusetts, as the winner of the David L. Schnair Award for his dedicated service as a BVA volunteer at the Providence, Rhode Island, VA Medical Center. Carl has also served as National Treasurer of the BVA Auxiliary since August 2010.
The Southern California Regional Group, represented by President Art Melworm, was awarded the Gold Gavel for the largest numerical membership increase (31) while Bill Case received the Silver Gavel on behalf of the Rio Grande Regional Group for the largest percentage increase in membership (16 percent). A newly designed Bronze Gavel, the first ever, was awarded to the regional group which converted into new members the largest number of nonmembers already existing in BVA’s database. Group President Terry King received the award for Florida.
BVA’s representation of three generations of female blinded veterans. Left to right attending Awards Banquet at 68th National Convention, World War II veteran Ruth Klein of Salt Lake City, Utah; Korean War veteran Charlotte Noddin of Coos Bay, Oregon; and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Shianti Lee of Los Angeles, California.
Hosted by the Spokane Inland Empire Regional Group and chaired by then BVA National Secretary Dale Stamper, this year’s gathering included a unique three-hour live auction on Wednesday evening (August 21) to offset convention expenses, a night of dinner and gaming at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in nearby Airway Heights, Washington, and optional local tours that explored Spokane’s rich history and wineries.
Convention attendees and volunteers numbered some 325, including 108 blinded veterans, 120 family members and friends, 65 individual exhibitors in 31 booths, and a host of professional presenters and volunteers from local Veterans Service Organizations, public schools, the Air Force Survival School, and other community organizations.
Volunteer Coordinator Margarine Beaman located the helpers by making contacts and establishing relationships throughout the year leading up to the convention’s opening gavel.
Meetings of the BVA Executive Committee and Board of Directors convened August 17-19. Directors of Districts 3 and 4 Joe Parker and Robert Mower, respectively, were to continue on the Board by virtue of their uncontested July re-elections until Joe’s election as National Secretary.
Tuesday’s Opening Business Session began with presentation of the colors by the Fairchild Air Force Base Refueling Wing and singing of the National Anthem by Spokane resident Gregory Plummer. Earlier this year three crew members from the same Refueling Wing were killed in a plane crash that received national attention. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki delivered the keynote address at the session. Remarks followed from Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Linda Reynolds, Director of Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center.
The Thursday Father Carroll Luncheon audience was favored by an address by Congressional Medal of Honor Award recipient Lieutenant Colonel Joe M. Jackson, who is also a life member of BVA. With slides on a large screen in the background, Joe recounted the dangerous impromptu rescue operation of three American military personnel during the Vietnam War Battle of Kham Duc on May 12, 1968 (Mother’s Day) that eventually earned him the honor.
BVA also presented its annual Certificates of Appreciation at the Luncheon to the following VA BRS employees: Suzanne Bennatt, VIST Coordinator at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center; Edward Richards, VIST Coordinator at the Northport VA Medical Center on Long Island, New York; and Deborah Kraut, a Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist within the New York Harbor Health Care System.
Now in its eighth year as a BVA national convention component, the organization’s Operation Peer Support initiative brought 20 recently blinded service members, including five from the United Kingdom, who lost their sight in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). .
Operation Peer Support brings together veterans of recent conflicts with those who have lost their sight in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the Gulf War era. The program’s aim is to provide newly blinded veterans, or service members if they are still on active duty, with opportunities to interact with men and women who have led prosperous and happy lives despite having to adjust to sight loss at some point. The older veterans and their families often serve as role models.
With microphone and Presidential Gavel in hand, newly elected BVA National President Mark Cornell pledges service and loyalty to fellow blinded veterans as 68th convention comes to a close.
Convention activities for Operation Peer Support participants included seminars, discussions, and demonstrations in the areas of educational and VA benefits, technology, family life, recreation, and career planning. The group also participated in a day of kayaking on nearby Liberty Lake courtesy of Team River Runner, and in an evening at Spokane’s Valley Bowling Lanes.
Before and after scheduled activities, many conventioneers enjoyed strolls through the renowned Riverfront Park. The park, located adjacent to the Red Lion, featured its own daily activities and also connected attendees to the abundant nearby dining options available in downtown Spokane.
Also running concurrently with BVA’s meetings was the second annual DoD-VA Eye Care Conference, planned and organized by the Vision Center of Excellence. Topics again this year focused on improving the tracking and treatment of combat injuries affecting vision.
In the convention’s Closing Business Session, a proposed bylaw amendment requiring the votes of two-thirds of the BVA delegates and other registered blinded veteran attendees failed to pass. The amendment would have extended BVA membership to low-vision veterans. The convention floor also voted to pass 14 resolutions. A 15th resolution was tabled.
The BVA’s 69th National Convention is right around the corner! Official dates for the gathering will fall during the third week of August in 2014. The Convention will be held in Reno, Nevada.
To keep abreast of details for the 69th National Convention and exact dates, be on the lookout for the next two issues of the quarterly BVA Bulletin or visit www.bva.org/convention.