I, like most people, enjoy winning awards.
My most recent individual Iowa Newspaper Association award was, I thought, the best honor I would ever receive for my work in the industry. Writing columns means putting your thoughts and opinions right out there for the world to see. You can't hide behind someone else's quotes in a story or an editorial board decision on a specific topic, You are just waiting to be judged on your merits. I thought being named the top columnist for the larger class of daily newspapers in Iowa a few years ago was the best.
I was wrong.
I was recently in Sioux City at a luncheon where I received an award that topped my previous win.
But this one was presented in a place I never expected to be: the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Conference.
In March, I received a letter informing me that I, as editor of The Messenger, had received a special award for traffic safety from the state's commissioner of public safety, Larry Noble. He and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the award to me in one of the most humbling experiences of my recent life.
Lt. Kelly Hindman, of the Iowa State Patrol, had nominated The Messenger, citing "its pro-active support of all law enforcement efforts in Fort Dodge and the readership area," the newspaper's support of Webster County Crime Stoppers and a special section recognizing the 75th anniversary of the Iowa State Patrol, along with reporter Peter Kaspari's and my enrollment in the inaugural Fort Dodge/Webster County Citizen's Academy. Inscribed on the award are the words: "For outstanding service to the cause of reducing injuries and loss of life in traffic crashes in Iowa."
I expected it to be cool to win, but I was truly awestruck as I listened to the qualifications of those who earned the 13 other awards.
I immediately knew I was outclassed.
Jesse Gildea was recognized in the children/youth category. He travels throughout the state presenting the ThinkFirst Iowa brain and spinal cord injury prevention program to school kids. Last year, he gave more than 300 programs to almost 28,000 students. He didn't walk up to receive his award; he rolled up in his wheelchair. Gildea was injured in a motocross accident in 2006, when he was 18, and has been paralyzed from the chest down since. Using a modified motorcycle, he still races today - but he also cautions young people to wear their seat belts and helmets, avoid violence, check water depth before diving, drive chemically free and avoid distractions while driving.
John Coulter is the chief and only member of the Afton Police Department. He is also the only certified EMT for his community. Chief Coulter does a Kids Day outreach at the Union County Fair; he provided educational items and conducted traffic safety presentations on OWIs, seat belts/child safety restraints and distracted driving laws to 350 parents, teens and children.
Al Haubrich, of Mason City, is a certified child passenger safety instructor. Haubrich travels to garage sales and secondhand stores and asks sellers not to sell used children's car seats. When he can't convince them to pull the merchandise, he buys it out of his own pocket and takes the seats to the Waste Management company that recycles the plastic. Because of his request to the regional director of Goodwill Industries, the sale of used car seats is banned in all Goodwill stores in the central U.S. region.
Officer Mark Kjormoe, of the Marion Police Department, was recognized in the criminal justice category. In 12 years, he has issued more than 13,000 citations, including 2,800 for speeding and more than 5,300 for seat-belt violations. Kjormoe, as was noted at the ceremony, "is not a full-time traffic officer, making his productivity all the more impressive."
In 2011, Trooper Rob Battles, of the District 1 State Patrol office in Des Moines, kept more than busy. He issued 1,688 speed citations, 586 seat-belt citations, 932 warnings and removed 30 impaired drivers from Iowa's roads.
Every one of the other folks who were recognized was a real hero who saves lives. I was honored to get to sit among them.
Barbara Wallace Hughes is the managing editor of The Messenger.