Will Rogers Humanitarian Award Winners
Presented annually by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists to a columnist whose sustained work in civic journalism produces tangible benefits for the community.
Will Rogers (1879-1935) used his public forum as a columnist and commentator to arouse sentiment for worthy causes and helped raise large sums of money for victims of natural disasters and economic hard times. He practiced civic journalism long before it became a familiar term — aptly described by the Pew Center as “both a philosophy and a set of values … at its heart is a belief that journalism has an obligation to public life – an obligation that goes beyond just telling the news or unloading lots of facts.”
The honor is explained on this page. Support for this program is provided by the Will Rogers Writers Foundation and the Will Rogers Memorial Museums.
2016 — Los Angeles — George Waters
George Waters publishes his humor column in four California newspapers. Waters was also 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.
Ten years ago Waters joined a church which, as one of its good works, travels to Mexico twice a year to help build houses. 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.
2015 — Indianapolis — Marisa Kwiatkowski
An investigative reporter covering social services for The Indianapolis Star, Marisa Kwiatkowski was recognized for work on behalf of children. Before joining the Star in 2013, Kwiatkowski reported for The Times of Northwest Indiana. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University in Michigan and has been active in area volunteer groups. Age 31 in mid-2015, Kwiatkowski was the youngest recipient since the Rogers award began in 2000 and already had received more than 30 journalism awards. Kwiatowski has been quoted as having said: “What grips me is the pressure to share those people’s stories in the most accurate, comprehensive way possible. And to do so with sensitivity and respect. There are easier jobs, that’s for sure. But I wanted this one because I believe that people — particularly those who can’t speak for themselves — deserve a voice.”
2014 — Washington, D.C. — Michael Paul Williams
The Virginia journalist has been called “the oppressed people’s correspondent.” Michael Paul Williams is metro columnist and a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Honors include Virginia Press Association awards for column writing in 1992, 1994 and 2007. He was a 1999 Nieman Fellow at Harvard. Williams has said that “afflicting the comfortable” is part of a columnist’s job description. He also believes “humanitarianism, by definition, should be a journalist’s highest calling.” Williams is a graduate of Virginia Union and Northwestern universities. In 2012, he was selected as a humanitarian honoree by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, about which he said, “When you’ve been accused of being a racist hatemonger for decades, it’s hard to process being called a humanitarian.” Williams promotes worthy charities in his column as well trying to right wrongs. “I love that newspapers have the power to influence events in that way,” he said.
2013 — Hartford, Conn. — Mike Morin
New Hampshire columnist and ex-radio broadcaster Mike Morin, who has used his public forum to raise millions of dollars to help others was the 2013 winner of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. Morin writes a twice-a-month humor column for The Telegraph of Nashua. In 2014 he retired as co-host of “New Hampshire in the Morning” on radio station WZID in Manchester. During Morin’s 43 years in radio, he was been buried alive three times for charity, broadcast over 350,000 songs and interviewed two presidents along with talking with hundreds of celebrities. Said a former editor of his, “He has used his media connections – and celebrity – to advance the causes of many organizations.” Former Gov. John H. Lynch said Morin’s involvement in charitable fundraising activities “is creative, fun, energetic and incredibly productive.”
2012 — Macon, Ga. — Mike Masterson
An Arkansas journalist who fought against injustice and strived to produce positive change over four decades was the 2012 winner of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. Mike Masterson, Voices (op-ed) columnist and former opinion editor for the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was nominated for the award for his record of “compassionate journalism” as an investigative reporter and columnist. His writings resulted in freedom for persons wrongfully charged with crimes, produced changes in public policy and the law and raised public awareness of the plight of the mentally ill. Masterson was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for helping to expose corruption in the federal Indian programs. He was a two-time winner of the Heywood Broun Memorial Award for championing the causes of those without a voice.
2011 — Detroit — Rochelle Riley
Crusading columnist Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press was the 2011 winner of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. She was recognized for her decade-long project for adult literacy as well as many other community service activities. One of the top African-American journalists in the United States, Rochelle Riley has won many local, state and national honors, including the national Scripps-Howard award for her coverage of literacy. The Michigan Press Association named her the state’s best local columnist three times. Rochelle helped in creation of the award when working at the Courier-Journal in Louisville. Twelve years later she was nominated for it herself.
2010 — Bloomington, Ind. — Ed Grisamore
Ed Grisamore of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., a columnist with a widely varied record of community service, was the 2010 winner of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. Sherrie Marshall, executive editor of The Telegraph, cited a list of volunteer activities headed by his leadership in “The Reindeer Gang”, the newspaper’s annual holiday charitable giving effort. Marshall called Grisamore “a wonderful ambassador for the newspaper.” He was inducted into the Macon Sports Hall of Fame for “contribution to sports” in the city.He has been involved in numerous charitable fundraisers for needy children, such as Make-A-Wish and March of Dimes. He also has taught writing at a popular summer camp for kids, taught senior citizens to write their autobiographies, and organized the newspaper’s boot camp for aspiring writers.
2009 — Ventura, Calif. — Jonathan Nicholas
Jonathan Nicholas, a 25-year columnist for The Oregonian, leaving the Portland newspaper in 2008, was honored for for his efforts to bridge the divide between rural and urban Oregon, as a prime mover of Cycle Oregon. The annual multi-day bicycle ride raises money for communities along the route, and supports bike advocacy. Nicholas has been a longtime member of NSNC and was its 1996-97 president. A lot of the society’s serious principles and fun traditions can be traced to Nicholas, even the its longtime logo, Alex.
2008 — New Orleans — Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell, who now blogs at Bill Campbell’s Emerald Coast, had been a columnist for The Beachcomber in Destin, Fla., when was one of two winners in 2008 when there was a tie. Campbell had community service as a theme for many of the columns he has written over the past 20 years. He gave support to a wide variety of non-profit organizations and involved himself personally with a number of these groups. He was nominated for the award by a physician who praised his efforts to urge men to get checked for prostate cancer.
2008 — New Orleans — Carol A. Dawson
Indiana-based columnist Carol A. Dawson received an award in 2008 for the beneficial effect of “The Extra Miler”, a column she writes for the Jeffersonville Evening News and The New Albany Tribune. She originated the column to recognize individuals committing extraordinary acts of kindness for others and not seeking or receiving public credit for their deeds. In 2005-2008, she has featured more than 150 persons in Indiana plus many in military service.
2007 — Philadelphia — Mike Harden
Winner of the 2007 award was Mike Harden. The longtime Columbus Dispatch columnist had championed a back-to-school program for children of needy families, helped raise funds to send CARE packages to men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and got contributions to save a crippled therapy horse that worked with autistic children. Harden also gave up three weeks of vacation to cook in a church kitchen on the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast. He died in 2010.
2006 — Boston — John Boston
John Boston won in 2006 for his efforts in behalf of readers of The Signal, Santa Clarita, Calif. The newspaper’s general manager, Tim Whyte, said that Boston “has worked tirelessly in the community … raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities.” Included was nearly $50,000 for the 1st Amendment Scholarship Foundation and money for a charity that uses equestrian training to help handicapped children.
2005 — Grapevine, Texas — Lindor Reynolds
2004 — New Orleans – Sheila Stroup
The 2004 award went to Sheila Stroup of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for using her role as a columnist to make numerous contributions to her community. She helped raise money for projects that included $9,000 to buy new tubas for a high school band that represented Louisiana in the World War II memorial dedication in Washington and $16,000 for a public schools program for families who could not afford to buy school uniforms.
2003 — Tucson, Ariz. — Stu Bykofsky
Readers of the Philadelphia Daily News know Stu Bykofsky, winner of the 2003 award, as a curmudgeon with a heart. He hosts an annual charity event for the Variety Club that has raised more than $150,000 for handicapped children. Other community activities he has promoted include efforts in behalf of animals, a youth center, an adoption center, and multiple sclerosis. He is a former member of the NSNC Board of Directors.
2002 — Pittsburgh — Dave Lieber
The 2002 award winner, Dave Lieber, “Watchdog” columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram then beginning in mid-2013 The Dallas Morning News, was recognized for his leadership in creating and promoting one of the largest children’s charity programs in his area. Summer Santa Inc. sends children to summer camps; provides medical checkups for campers who cannot afford them; and buys back-to-school clothing and supplies. An author and public speaker, he serves as secretary of the NSNC Education Foundation.
2001 — San Francisco — Tim Chavez
Nashville columnist Tim Chavez won the 2001 award for using his column in The Tennessean to help disadvantaged children in a variety of ways. Chavez promoted efforts to collect more than 150 computers from businesses and residents to bring into classrooms. He also helped to obtain $35,000 in cash and equipment to establish an Immigrant Education Center for parents.
2000 — Washington, D.C. — Jeff Zaslow
Jeffrey Zaslow was the first winner of the award, which he received at the 2000 NSNC conference in Washington, D.C. As a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was cited for his annual campaign to raise money for school supplies for needy children and other community endeavors. Zaslow has been a staff writer and columnist at The Wall Street Journal. He served as the NSNC Contest Chair from 2005 to 2007. Zaslow, who became a best-selling author, was killed in an automobile accident in 2012.