A California columnist with a long record of community service is this year’s Will Rogers Humanitarian Award honoree. George Waters of Pasadena, whose humor column is published in four California newspapers, will receive the award at the 40th annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, meeting in Los Angeles.
The award ceremony will be held on Friday, June 24, at a dinner at the Will Rogers Ranch hosted by Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, a great-granddaughter of Will Rogers. Waters will be the 18th recipient of the award, which recognizes a writer whose work has positively affected readers’ lives and produced tangible humanitarian benefits.
Waters was the first winner of the Will Rogers writing contest in 2006 and was honored at the Will Rogers Writers’ Workshop in Oklahoma City in 2007. He has emulated Rogers, who wrote more than 6,000 columns syndicated in 600 newspapers, by engaging in a variety of activities that fulfilled a journalist’s obligation to public life. Rogers achieved the status of a great humanitarian by using his public forum to raise millions of dollars for victims of natural disasters and others in need.
Ten years ago Waters joined a church which, as one of its good works, travels to Mexico twice a year to help build houses. George’s describes his recent trip in April as a demanding physical challenge. As he put it in a column: “We filled trenches with dirt, lugged cinder blocks and then created a big human loop and passed concrete buckets.” About returning to the states, he wrote, “The border agent asked if I had anything to declare. I didn’t say it, because I’m sure he’s heard everything, but what I thought was: ‘Be the neighbor you’d want to have.'”
Waters has been that kind of neighbor in his community. For several years he has taken part in Big Sunday, a Southern California charitable event which pairs volunteers with needy local schools and organizations. George has painted school hallways, planted vegetable gardens and cleaned classrooms.
Waters and his wife Jennifer were part of the winning team in this year’s “Great Trivia Challenge,” an annual competition and fundraising event to help support Glendora Public Library.
Waters has also distinguished himself as a volunteer in Pasadena’s annual Rose Parade, for which he has volunteered for eight successive years. He gave his readers “the
inside view as a ‘white suiter’ volunteer” in a column published in the Pasadena Star-News:
“If you have been to the parade, you have seen us. We wear all-white suits and red neckties, and there are almost 1,000 of us, fanned out across Pasadena on New Year’s Day making sure the parade goes smoothly.”
The duty often requires spending all night in chilly weather before the parade, then answering questions from the public and helping if a float needs assistance.
Waters writes: “A whole lot of volunteers put this incomparable parade together for you. We don’t get paid. Your smile is our pay.” Since its inception in 1983, the Tournament of Roses Foundation has invested over $2.7 million in more than 180 Pasadena-area organizations.
“Volunteering is a humanitarian act because it requires giving of one’s self for the benefit of others,” said Robert Haught, coordinator of the Will Rogers award program. To cite some examples of George Waters’ service to his profession as a writer, in 2012 he discovered a Canadian newspaper editor, Steve Jeffrey, was copying his work. He ended up researching a year of Jeffrey’s weekly writings and found that 42 of his columns were stolen from 13 different writers, including himself. Waters exposed Jeffrey in his blog (The “Wa” Blog) and reported him to the Poynter Institute, which verified the fraud. Jeffrey subsequently was forced to resign his position.
More recently, Waters has volunteered his services for several years as a judge in the annual Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. The Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, a desk-size replica of the Rogers statue in the U.S. Capitol, is contributed by the Will Rogers Memorial Foundation. It carries a $500 stipend, provided by the Will Rogers Writers Foundation.