FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2009
Contact: Jennifer M. Guild, Senior Officer for Public Relations and Marketing
Tel: (804) 342-9665 | Email:
Ten Receive Awards from the Virginia Historical Society
Students, Authors, and Staff among Those Recognized
Richmond, VA—The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) recognized ten award winners at the Annual Meeting for 2008 on Thursday, May 21, 2009. Board of Trustees Chairman J. Stewart Bryan, III, made the opening and closing remarks to the almost 500 honorees, trustees, and VHS members in attendance. President and CEO Paul A. Levengood—exactly one year to the day after it was announced that he would take over as director of the VHS—recapped activities at the Society in 2008.
"It is in history that many of us find comfort, that we find meaning," Levengood said to the crowd. "We are here as a refuge and as a place to learn and put our lives in context. What else but history, and perhaps faith, allows us to do that? With these awards handed out tonight you will see those who have excelled in the fields of scholarship, service, and support of the Virginia Historical Society."
VHS awards were presented to authors, staff members, a philanthropist, a volunteer, and a student. All have made significant contributions to research, education, and the mission of the Society.
For ten years, the VHS has conducted the Wyndham B. Blanton Scholars Forum, a program designed to bring twenty high school students to the Society to participate in a discussion with one of the nation's leading historians. For the past three years, the education department has selected one of those twenty students to receive a $5,000 college scholarship. This award—underwritten by an anonymous donor—is given to the student who writes the best paper and who provides the most substantive contributions during the forum. Olga Korostolina, a student at W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, was presented with the 2008 Wyndham B. Blanton Scholarship Award by William Obrochta, VHS Director of Education. Obrochta said, "In her paper, Korostolina demonstrated more mature thinking and greater analysis than her peers, and her bibliography was the most extensive that I have seen in the ten years of the program."
VHS President's Council member John R. Pagan presented the Richard Slatten Award for Excellence in Virginia Biography to James R. Sweeney, author of Race, Reason, and Massive Resistance: The Diary of David J. Mays, 1954–1959. Since 1998, and thanks to a generous bequest from the estate of Kathleen L. Slatten, the VHS has been able to offer a cash reward to recognize distinguished contributions to Virginia biography. Dr. Sweeney teaches history at Old Dominion University and is a former member of the editorial board of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.
The Society established the C. Coleman McGehee Award in 1995 to recognize the best article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography written by a graduate student. The prize, which carries a cash award, was created in memory of C. Coleman McGehee, who served as president of the Society from 1992 to 1994. The 2008 award was presented by Caroline McGehee Lindemann to John Ragosta for his article entitled "Fighting for Freedom: Virginia Dissenters' Struggles for Religious Liberty during the American Revolution." Dr. Ragosta was a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia when he submitted his essay.
Established in 1985 in honor of long-time editor Will Rachal, the William M. E. Rachal Award recognizes the overall best article to appear in the VHS quarterly journal, the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. The journal's editorial advisory board committee selected author Caroline E. Janney for her article "One of the Best Loved, North and South': The Appropriation of National Reconciliation by LaSalle Corbell Pickett." Pagan presented the University of Virginia graduate and Purdue University professor with her award. According to the prize committee, "Janney's careful research and exquisite prose not only meets the high standards of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, it raises the bar."
VHS Trustee Helen Turner Murphy presented the Patricia Rodman and Martin Kirwan King Volunteer of the Year Award to Ethel Mezger. Mezger, the lead docent for six years and volunteer at the Society for more than ten years, is a crucial liaison between the education department and the volunteers who help the VHS fulfill its educational mission. Murphy remarked that Mezger is "unfailingly enthusiastic, has a wonderful manner with students she guides through the galleries, and is warm and welcoming to everyone she comes across. She's a great VHS ambassador to the larger community."
The President's Awards for Excellence, presented by Levengood, are awarded to employees who exemplify outstanding service. This designation, in its eleventh year, recognizes VHS staff who demonstrate a spirit of teamwork and cooperation. The 2008 winners, who were nominated by their colleagues, were L. Paige Newman, Assistant Archivist; Katherine Wilkins, Reference Librarian; and Jennifer Guild, Media Relations Specialist. Newman has worked in the Society's manuscript and archives department since 2003; Wilkins has worked in the VHS library for three-and-a-half years; and Guild has worked in the Development and Public Affairs department for just over two years.
The Lora Robins Award, named for the widow of the late E. Claiborne Robins, Sr., was presented by Chairman Bryan to William R. Berkley. Berkley, the first non-Virginian to win the Robins Award, is Chairman and CEO of the W. R. Berkley Corporation, a Fortune 500 property-casualty insurance holding company that he founded in 1967. He was given the 2008 award because he best emulated Lora Robins’s splendid leadership, generosity, and foresight in collecting the evidence of Virginia's history for the benefit of future generations. Berkley donated one of the most important collections to the VHS in the last twenty years—156 original pen-and-ink drawings by Civil War artist Edwin Forbes. This collection, which documents the Union Army of the Potomac in Virginia from 1862 to 1864, makes the Society one of the premier holders of Civil War imagery.
In 1991 VHS archivist Howson Cole retired after presiding over the manuscript department for almost forty years. The Society decided to honor his extraordinary skill and dedication by creating an award that would recognize staff as devoted as he was. This year's Howson W. Cole Award recipient, Lawrence I. Steed, was a key member of the Virginia House staff for forty-eight years until he retired in 2008. Steed was posthumously recognized because he passed away just two months ago. Robert Strohm, VHS Executive Vice President, presented the award to Steed's daughter, Pamela, and members of her family. Strohm said, "We don't give this award every year—only when we think it's truly deserved—and no one could be more deserving of this honor. Lawrence did whatever needed to be done, and always with good humor, a smile, unending patience and wisdom derived from nearly fifty years of conscientious service."
After all ten award recipients were honored at the Society's Annual Meeting, Former President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Daniel P. Jordan spoke at the Stuart G. Christian, Jr., Lecture about the enduring legacy of the third U.S. president. After his talk, "Jefferson in Perspective," Jordan signed books, and guests mingled at the reception.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10 am–5 pm
and Sunday 1 pm–5pm (Museum Galleries and Shop only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit www.vahistorical.org.