A few months ago Purdue University gave the Neil Armstrong Medal to Captain Charles “Sully” Sullivan, the Hero of the Hudson. This is only the second time that the Armstrong Award has been given. Ever wonder how these awards are created? Well, I was talking with Murray Blackwelder, the then Senior Vice President of Purdue, who was visiting me in Portland. He asked, “How do you honor Neil Armstrong?”Good question.After a couple of glasses of wine, I suggested the Neil Armstrong Medal which would be given periodically to someone who embodies the great pioneer spirit, determination and dedication that distinguished Neil Armstrong’s exploration of space and his later roles as a businessman and scholar.Armstrong, a graduate of Purdue, was the first recipient. Now four years later, I just read that Sully was the second recipient.The Armstrong medal is the most prestigious recognition in aviation–and it all happened over a drink in Portland, Maine.Each of you has opportunities to recognize those among us who, by significant accomplishment, deed or duty have distinguished themselves. We just have to be aware and willing to step out and make it happen.I recently called John Green, the President of the International Assembly of Business Schools and Programs with US, Europe and Asian offices. This was the third Business School Accrediting Association he has birthed. He was my President at Washburn University in Topeka when I was a young Vice President. We used to talk about creating a Bowl Game for Topeka. Well, now almost 30 years later the Kanza Bowl has the highest non playoff team of the MIAA and the same from the Lone Star Conference. They cover Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico for Division 2 Schools. Washburn won this year 45 to 14 over Texas.Now those kids and players are Bowl winners! Theirs is one of only four Division 2 Bowls in the country. Who knows whether it will survive, but Washburn is the current Bowl Champion. That means rings, awards, plaques, dinners and the rest will be presented to the winners.Washburn and Sully benefited from creativity and innovation. Families will be buoyed, careers will be enhanced, institutions will be advanced, and credibility will be established.People are limited by their own limitations.Murray and I were at Wichita State University together in the late 80’s. The only award that was being presented was the Alumni Distinguished Service Award. The WSU Alumni Leadership protected their decision-making, and I respect that. But Wichita State had hundreds of people who deserved acknowledgement. So again, probably over a nice glass of wine, we created three other awards. The Fairmount Founders Award recognized those who followed the historic mission of WSU (WSU was originally Fairmount College); The President’s Medal, presented at commencement, was awarded to the person who had in his or her a career supported the future of WSU; and finally, the University of Wichita’s Board of Trustees Award, recognized the community leadership in the context of the WSU period as an urban University. Each was selected at the discretion of the University President, and they were presented strategically at different times of the year. The Alumni Association got to do their thing without being interrupted by the University’s need to honor others. Now 20 years later the list of WSU honorees for these three awards is a Hall of Fame in the University’s history—and its future.We tend to limit recognition. We tend to create onerous standards and politics and local issues.Too many nonprofits have too high a view of criteria for acknowledgement. Then when the person dies, they say, “What were we waiting for?”No one has ever been over recognized.What are you waiting for?
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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