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OWAA announces 2014 honorary award recipients

Five earned special recognition during the concluding banquet at OWAA’s 87th Annual Conference

MISSOULA, Mont. – At its recent annual conference in McAllen, Texas, the Outdoor Writers Association of America, “The Voice of the Outdoors,” honored five with its most distinguished awards.

  • J. Hammond Brown Award = Spencer Turner, of Columbia, Missouri
  • Excellence in Craft Award = Brent Frazee, of Kansas City, Missouri
  • Jade of Chiefs Award = Kris Thoemke, of Naples, Florida
  • Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award = Debbie Flanigan, of Bedford Pennsylvania
  • Outstanding Board Member = Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, of Chandler, Arizona

J. Hammond Brown Award

Spencer Turner, of Columbia, Missouri, received the 2014 J. Hammond Brown Award. The award is OWAA’s most prestigious recognition of a member “for devoted past service to the organization over a period of continuous years.”

In presenting the award to Turner, past recipient Phil Bloom said: “After serving in the U.S. Air Force in Alaska, Spence had a successful natural resources career with the Missouri Department of Conservation, contributing greatly to outdoor recreational opportunities for many, specifically with fishing.

“A friend and coworker – Joel Vance – encouraged him to join OWAA in the early 1980s. The bulk of Spence’s work to that point consisted of writing technical and scientific reports. Popular writing was a new and different challenge. But Spence got better and better at his craft, and according to Joel became ‘a real pro.’ … Spence eventually worked his way through the [OWAA] vice president ranks and became president during an especially difficult period for OWAA. … He came to his first meeting as president and placed a single sheet of paper in front of each member of the board. On the paper was OWAA’s mission statement. … He directed the board to keep those words in mind with every action taken from that point forward. It was the perfect antidote to what ailed us at the time. It set the right tone, the right focus. And OWAA is better for it.”

Excellence in Craft Award

Brent Frazee of Kansas City, Missouri, received OWAA’s 2014 Excellence in Craft Award. Frazee has been a member of OWAA since 1980. The award honors an OWAA member “for outstanding effort in upholding the OWAA Creed and continued excellence in craft.”

“Brent Frazee has taken Kansas City Star readers afield with fishing, hunting, hiking and camping stories for a quarter century,” said Bill Graham, immediate past president of OWAA and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“His outdoor page is the next best thing to being outdoors. Brent brings nature and conservation alive, telling folks where to go and how to have more success outdoors. But he also shows how and why people and nature interact, why each is important to the other. People matter to Brent as much as the outdoors, and that’s why readers have taken his stories and photos to heart over the years.”

Jade of Chiefs Award

Kris Thoemke, of Naples, Florida, received the 2014 Jade of Chiefs Award. The Jade of Chiefs Award was first established in 1958 as OWAA’s top conservation award. Although only OWAA members are eligible, it is not actually presented by the organization, but by past award winners, who are known as the Circle of Chiefs. Only these members of the Circle can nominate a new member and can vote. The Circle is recognized as the OWAA’s conservation conscience and policy spokesman.

In announcing this year’s award, past recipient Shannon Tompkins said, “Kris Thoemke’s achievements in the fields of conservation and communication epitomize the qualifications considered for the Jade of Chiefs Award, OWAA’s highest honor for lifetime accomplishments in blending these two disciplines.

“Florida, where Kris has spent most of his life and all of his professional career, is a better place because of him. And OWAA is a better organization because of having Kris and people like him as members.”

Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award

Debbie Flanigan, of Bedford, Pennsylvania, received the 2014 Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award. This award originated in 1998, and recipients exhibit the qualities of the award’s namesake in exemplifying warmth and radiance, goodwill, helpfulness, generosity and kindness to others.

“Debbie Flanigan is that very rare type of person who can get on an elevator filled with rude, grumbling people and leave all of them smiling when she gets off,” said Terry and Barb Brady.

“Her graceful style, warm smile, and knack for making everyone feel important have been her trademark since she began attending OWAA conferences with husband, Timothy … This retired, self-employed businesswoman now is a skilled photographer and writer, who joined Tim as a co-partner, forming NatureExposure. …She delights in outdoors pursuits and attending OWAA conferences across the country. She always is eager to make new friends, and often they are conference first-time attendees who may not remember Debbie’s photography tip or business pointer, but they always remember her name.”

Outstanding Board Member Award

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, of Chandler, Arizona, received the 2014 Outstanding Board Member Award. An OWAA member since 2010, she is an outdoor photographer, writer, instructor and speaker, and book author specializing in outdoor recreation, nature, conservation and travel.

“Colleen’s leadership as a board member has been key to improving engagement with our members, said OWAA Executive Directory Tom Sadler. “Colleen’s focused, task-oriented approach as chair of the member services committee is just one of the many reasons she deserved the accolades of her peers.”

Past president Bill Graham added, “Remember that board members choose this honoree and do so based on work and input they’ve witnessed. Colleen came to the board with ideas, and more importantly, she followed up and worked hard to put them into action. Her efforts to improve services and communication for members are impressive. Rumor has it she’s been dubbed the ‘velvet hammer’ as a leader, and that’s valuable leadership for OWAA.”

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