A tradition returns: Access Press announces 2023 Charlie Smith Award celebration  

A valued recognition for Minnesotans with disabilities is back. The Access Press Board of Directors is pleased to announce that the […]

Charlie Smith headshot

A valued recognition for Minnesotans with disabilities is back. The Access Press Board of Directors is pleased to announce that the Charlie Smith Award and annual fundraiser and celebration returns in 2023. The event features a dinner, time to see friends and socialize, and the award presentation. 

This year’s event not only honors Charlie Smith, Jr., the founder and first editor of Access Press. It will also be a time to celebrate the life and achievements of Tim Benjamin, who succeeded Smith as Access Press executive director/editor and served for many years. Benjamin died in 2022. 

The event is Friday, November 3 at McNamara Center, University of Minnesota East Bank campus. Our lead sponsor is the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration. 

Save the date and watch for information on ticket costs. 

Access Press will also seek banquet and table sponsors. Contact information is on page 12. 

“We’re very pleased to bring the Charlie Smith Award back, and to honor the work of Tim Benjamin,” said Kay Willshire, president of the Access Press Board of Directors. “We are excited to celebrate the legacy of two great disability-focused journalists. We look forward to seeing you there to support the important work of Access Press.” 

“The COVID pandemic was very challenging for newspapers,” Willshire said. “Access Press was no exception. We are headed in a positive direction but we need our disability community’s support to continue providing news and information.” 

A community-led process and open nomination period continues for the Charlie Smith Award. The Access Press Board reviews nominations and chooses the award winner. All nominees and the winner will be recognized in the September issue of Access Press. 

The nomination period opens June 1 and continues through midnight, Monday, July 31. Email the newspaper at [email protected] to receive a form. A link to the form is also on the website, www.accesspress.org 

If help is needed with a form call 651-644-2133 ext. 1 for assistance or accommodations. 

Who can be considered for the Charlie Smith Award? Nominees can be one person, a group of people or an entire organization. Nominees must be active in and have strong ties to Minnesota’s disability community, and go above and beyond to improve the lives of Minnesotans with disabilities. This type of work can take many forms. The award can go to prominent leaders or to people who work quietly behind the scenes. 

Nominees must be living at the time of the nomination and not be people who have passed away. 

Past winners cannot be nominated again Past nominees who didn’t win the award can be nominated again. People cannot nominate themselves. 

People who submit nominations must submit contact information in case Access Press has additional questions about a nominee. Please send a high-resolution digital photo or an actual picture of the nominee. Otherwise, be prepared to tell the editor where a high-resolution picture can be obtained. 

“It’s always enjoyable for board members and newspaper staff to read the nomination forms, and learn about the many talented people in our community,” said Editor Jane McClure. “It’s very humbling to see the many great things people are doing on our behalf.” 

Smith died in 2001. The first award was given in 2003 at the Como Lakeside Pavilion. That space was outgrown quickly so the event moved to various hotel banquet facilities. The event was dropped in 2018 due to cost and staffing considerations. 

A diverse group of Minnesotans was honored over the years. Here is a list of the past Charlie Smith Award winners:

2017 – Mark Braun, Paralympian 
2016 – Cliff Poetz, Institute on Community Integration 
2015 – Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, Minnesota Commission for Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing 
2014 – Christine Marble and Wendy Devore, Career Ventures 
2013 – Cal Appleby, Augsburg College 
2012 – Charles “Chuck” Van Heuvel, St. Paul School District 
2011 – Jeff Bangsberg, Minnesota Department of Health 
2010 – Steve Kuntz, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development 
2009 – Anne Henry, Minnesota Disability Law Center 
2008 – Pete Feigl, Co-Founder of Tilting at Windmills 
2007 – Jim and Claudia Carlisle, People Enhancing People 
2006 – John Smith, University of Minnesota ICI 
2005 – Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) 
2004 – Rick Cardenas, Co-Director of Advocating Change Together (ACT) 
2003 – Margot Imdieke Cross, Minnesota State Council on Disability 

“The Charlie Smith Award has been given to a number of deserving and distinguished people who have created a better life for members of our disability community,” said Kay Willshire, president of the Access Press Board. “By nominating a person for this award you are not only recognizing that person for individual contributions to our community, you are also shining a positive light on our community as a whole.” 

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