Winners of the 2015 South Shore Leadership Awards.
by Jerry Davich
Keith Kirkpatrick asked hundreds of guests to raise their champagne glasses to symbolically toast the newest Leaders as Heroes inductees.
More realistically, Kirkpatrick hoped his toast at the jam-packed Avalon Manor in Merrillville raised awareness to the importance of publicly recognizing our region’s “doers, founders and risk-takers,” as he calls them.
“This is our salute to your leadership, and to each of you who guide our organizations and make things happen,” says Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of the South Shore Leadership Center.
The center received an overwhelming response to its call for nominations for the fourth annual awards tribute, designed to honor unsung leaders who exemplify a vision to educate, challenge, inspire, encourage, connect and engage. Northwest Indiana is led by a powerful network of diverse, innovative and energetic leaders who routinely advance effective solutions to significant issues in our communities, yet have received little recognition for their achievements in leadership, Kirkpatrick says.
The spring awards celebration, sponsored in part by NIPSCO and Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly, featured 14 finalists and five honorees using 10 principles for criteria, such as engaging, innovative and ethical. Those finalists were: Scott Angel, Richard Christakes, Tiffany English, Scott Bourrell, Dion Campbell, O’Merrial Butchee, Geof Benson, Jon Hoek, Kimberly D. Smith, Greg Mance, Marcus Martin, Alicia Nunn, Tyrone Spann and Michael Sutton.
Five of the finalists received top honors–Campbell, Butchee, Benson, Hoek and Smith–bestowed at the event with custom-made awards reflecting their efforts through the years. For example, Campbell’s award includes hands reaching out to young people and a transformer to reflect his transformative work as a police detective.
“These leaders are truly our region’s greatest asset,” Kirkpatrick told guests.
Calumet College of St. Joseph
The center’s second annual Crest Award went to Dan Lowery, an ordained deacon who has served on more boards, committees and organizations than most any professional in this region. The award, the pinnacle honor of the evening, was created to exemplify five tenets of professional excellence through being a teacher, mentor, model, historian and, of course, leader.
“I’m moved by the professional and personal stories of the award winners,” says Lowery, president of Calumet College of St. Joseph. “Each of us is challenged to make the world a better place, even in our own small way.”
Michigan City Police Department
“I was actually a bit embarrassed,” Campbell replies when asked for his initial reaction to being named a finalist and honoree. “After getting past the initial embarrassment, I felt humbled and then very grateful.”
The community initiatives he helped launch began with “hearing a cry in the community,” he says, prompting his decision to then take action.
“In observation of the current issues facing law enforcement engagement with the public, it sends a clear message that reforms must take place in both policing procedures and in society norms,” says Campbell, a police detective who also serves as a high school resource officer. “There does exist a posture and mentality where law enforcement can execute their duties while garnering the respect of the communities that they serve.”
Campbell hopes that earning this award may help draw awareness to others who also came from humble means while serving as an “inspirational point” to live for more than just themselves.
“It also creates a platform to further meaningful agendas that can impact positively the lives of others,” says Campbell, who founded the police department’s Youth Leadership Academy.
His advice for other aspiring leaders: Never enter into a project for recognition. “Your gift will make room for you and bring you before the right people,” he suggests. “Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it with excellence. Life without purpose is a tragedy.”
Director of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center
Ivy Tech Community College Northwest in Gary
Butchee has been told by several respected people that God has “something special” in His plans for her. For instance, Dr. Victor Obajuluwa, a prominent physical therapist, saw her struggling to get around after having knee surgery last year, and he acknowledged her as “a gift to many.”
Her gift led her to co-write the “Dare to Dream: One Region/One Vision” grant, and multiple books, including “Phobophobia,” exploring the timeless choice to live by faith, not fear.
“This award is a testament to the fact that old-schoolers can be taught new tricks,” she says. “I was honored and very appreciative of the gift as a finalist and award winner.”
She quickly thanked the center under Kirkpatrick’s leadership and her nominator, Dr. Janell Harvey, who supported her.
Her advice is to perform tasks with pride, passion and the highest of ethical intentions.
“If you only seek happiness in what others will say about you, you will have a miserable life. Take joy in that you were able to make a positive difference in the lives you touched and what is yours will come to you.”
Vice President of Pig Production
Bellstra Milling Co.
Jon Hoek felt truly humbled for being recommended for this award, let alone becoming a finalist and honoree.
Truth be told, he had never known about the South Shore Leadership Center but quickly became impressed by its service to the region. As creator of the popular “Pig Adventure” at Fair Oaks Farms, his acceptance comments were filled with little pork, only substance. And an appreciation for God, church and his colleagues, in that order.
“Community and teamwork are what gets things done and so much of what I am passionate about has been a group effort, learning and growing from others,” he says, particularly noting Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary.
His award was adorned with three crosses symbolizing his faith-based efforts in churches, schools and prisons. “To Him I am grateful,” Hoek says.
Through this award, he has already met so many other unsung heroes who have become good friends and great connections.
“Leadership is sometimes hard to come by these days. I am grateful that South Shore Leadership Center exists to recognize the efforts of leaders who are not tooting their own horns, so to speak.”
Dunes Learning Center
As Kirkpatrick puts it, “Geof Benson is all about the environment.” No truer words have been said about an award honoree.
Benson, from Beverly Shores, exemplifies this description through his work, his words and his leadership roles.
“When I first heard I was a finalist, I was very excited and humbled–even more so at the press conference when I met the other leaders who were also finalists,” he says. “I was impressed with their talents, passions and impacts on their communities.”
When the awards were announced, Benson was grateful to be recognized and happy to share the stage with these other regional leaders, he says.
“Each of this year’s award winners is doing impressive and critical work. Leaders as Heroes doesn’t just recognize individuals, it shines a light on some of the best and most promising things happening in our region. It is inspiring to know that people notice and value the work we are doing.”
His advice also comes naturally: “Do it as if someone is watching and maybe someday they’ll notice your efforts. But do it for yourself.”
Early Learning Partnership of NWI
Kimberly Smith has been involved with the center as a Leadership Northwest Indiana (LNI) class 29 alumni, guest speaker, and several related events. And now she is among the center’s highest honorees.
“To be recognized at this event and held up with such an incredible group of community minded and engaged people was awesome in itself,” she says. “Finding out I was an award winner was a really proud moment, especially having my family, staff members and my 7-year-old son in attendance cheering me on.”
It was Dan Lowery who suggested she bring her young son to the awards dinner so he could better understand what mommy does when she’s away from him “working.” What she’s doing is making an impact on others’ lives.
“Hopefully it inspires my son and others to be engaged in their community,” says Smith, who has worked as a Parents as Teachers national trainer for more than a decade.
“Being recognized for the efforts put forth in the field of early childhood parent education and support over the past 15 years is really awesome,” she says. “I share this award with the incredible staff, board members, volunteers and families that make up Early Learning Partnership of NWI.”
“The award process brings a great opportunity to spread awareness of the importance of early childhood initiatives toward improving the quality of life in our communities,” she adds. “The uniqueness and thought that went into the actual physical award was really special.”
Her award featured a parent and child reading and playing together, perfectly capturing what Smith is passionate about and the mission she serves.
“What I have learned and would pass on to others is that sharing your strengths, and being able to pinpoint assets that make you an effect leader, allows us to pass on lessons learned for future leaders,” she says. “It also builds a stronger understanding of self. I am a better leader now than before the Leaders as Heroes award process.”