2011-12 JEFFERSON AWARD FINALISTS
• Montrell Besley
• Jon Peri Coppinger
• Bobby Dunn
• Eva Jo Johnson
• Judith Ragon
• Jeanna Richelson
• Lester Wilker
• Dorothy Williamson
• Connie Wright
• Dr. Tomasz Voychehovski
Men and women who overcame their own obstacles and then invested in others were recognized Thursday for their efforts.
About 200 people filled the Sheraton Read House mezzanine area for the annual Jefferson Awards for public service as Chattanooga Times Free Press President Jason Taylor began the event.
"You are now among an elite group of individuals who have had an immense impact upon the community around us," Taylor said.
"One person can make a difference," was the theme of the event for the awards, which shine a light on unsung heroes, ordinary people who perform extraordinary deeds, according to a brochure handed out at the luncheon.
Father-and-son television and newspaper reporters David and Chris Carroll hosted the event, reading bios and showing brief videos about each of the local 10 Jefferson Award finalists.
Oral cancer survivor Jeanna Richelson was chosen to represent the Chattanooga area at the National Ceremonies for the Jefferson Awards in June in Washington, D.C.
"I don't know what to say," Richelson said after the audience stood and applauded her. "This is amazing. Thank you so much."
Cancer caused Richelson to have half the base of her tongue removed. She then started the Chattanooga Chapter of Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer, the first support group of its kind in the region.
Twelve years have passed since she was diagnosed with oral cancer. She's had three recurrences of the cancer but has been cancer-free for at least the past five years.
Among the other nominees were Judith Ragon, a retired teacher who at age 69 took a trip to Nicaragua and became so inspired she raised money for a medical clinic for Nicaraguan children.
Also on the list are Montrell Besley, a Chattanooga Parks and Recreation facility manager who became a father figure to several inner-city youths despite not having a father in his home, and Jon Peri Coppinger, who overcame the challenges of a learning disability to help people with muscular dystrophy.
There also was Dorothy Williamson, an oncology nurse who takes special care of cancer patients; Lester Wilker, who drove veterans to hospitals for surgeries for seven years; and Dr. Tomasz Voychehovski, who never turned away a patient because of inability to pay.
At the Jefferson Awards' National Ceremonies, U.S. senators will present the winners with their awards. Five winners will be selected to receive the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Community Service Benefiting Local Communities.
Brewer Broadcasting disc jockey and baseball coach Keith Landecker was local nominee from 2010-11 and previously represented Chattanooga in Washington.
"Nobody wakes up and says, 'I'm going to win the Jefferson Award,'" he said. "Nobody does that. You just do what you do, and then things happen."