Banquet Lets the Stars Shine Bright

by Sharon Lovering

ACB president Kim Charlson welcomed everyone to the banquet. “… By now in this week, you’ve heard plenty from me, so I’m going to take the evening off and introduce you to this evening’s master of ceremonies … Jeff Thom,” Charlson said.
Thom introduced the head table as the servers began delivering dinner. He shared a few “factoids” about Brian Charlson, including a reference to page 173 of the Deflate-gate report, and Kenneth Semien wanting to become a pastor.
After a few door prizes, Chelle Hart and Chip Hailey presented the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award. Hailey thanked the awards committee members for their work this year, and urged audience members to submit nominations for the national awards early next year. He gave the mike to Hart, who gave a brief description of the award before describing this year’s recipient. “In the early 1970s, this lady became involved with the blind through bowling. She helped organize and get sanctioned the Memphis Blind Bowlers so that they could bowl in the American Blind Bowlers Association.  … She has been involved with blind people ever since in many ways … Her first ACB convention was in 1995 … Let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and congratulate Dorothy ‘Dot’ Taylor on receiving the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award!”
“Usually I’m not at a loss for words, but this is about more than I can handle,” Dot Taylor quipped. “James Olsen I met when he came to Memphis to bowl, and [was] one of the first people I met when I joined ACB ... I really appreciate the honor. I didn’t know when you got old, you got so many honors ... Thank you very much.” When the cheers and applause faded, the group serenaded her with “Happy Birthday.”  Taylor added, “I just had my pacemaker checked, and it’s good for nine more years, so I’m planning to be here on my 100th birthday – but no singing.”
Marie Brinas from the Old Dominion Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired gave a special presentation “for a dear friend and colleague … Virginia has lost a favorite son, but Arizona, you’re gaining a great guy, and that person is John McCann.” She invited McCann to come forward while she read the plaque. “It is rare that a lawyer does not know what to say, so mark the occasion,” McCann said. “This is an honor that I never expected to receive … Thank you so much.”
Thom reclaimed the microphone to introduce Christine Ha, the evening’s keynote speaker. “Good evening, everyone,” Ha said. “I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet.” She called Houston,Texas home. “I lost my vision several years ago due to an autoimmune condition called neuromyelitis optica or NMO – I know that’s a mouthful. … My optic nerves atrophied over time. … And it was … at the same time that I was also teaching myself how to cook. And I started really gaining this passion for cooking … it was something I thought I would never be able to do again …”
Ha talked about being the only blind contestant on “MasterChef.” The staff gave her a sighted aide who would help her get around and figure out where everything was in the kitchen, but there were also a lot of rules placed on them, she noted. “She couldn’t tell me if something was still raw or burnt; I had to ask her very specific questions like, ‘Is this steak black or brown or red?’ and from that is how I determined if something was overcooked, cooked well or raw.” If she asked the aide to get the stand mixer, Ha couldn’t touch anything on the work station. “All of us are a lot more capable than we give ourselves credit for,” she added. “I think if you really set your mind to it, and with the right kind of support, anything is achievable.”
She took a few questions from the audience. Thom then called on Chelle Hart for the final award presentation. “This individual was nominated for an award this year because her accomplishments have underscored to the sighted world the degree to which a person who is blind is able to undertake daily activities that the general public often feels are beyond our capabilities,” Hart said. “She attained national acclaim winning the MasterChef contest … She is both an ambassador and a role model for our community. The 2015 ACB awards committee is proud to present the Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award to Ms. Christine Ha.”
Ha thanked ACB for the award. Afterward, the door prize committee gave away the last few prizes. Then it was time for the “Braille Forum” drawing! Dan Spoone drew the winning tickets from the big box full of hopefuls.
Five members of the Nashville Dance Club will share $5,000 as the first prize winners. Harold Edwards, Charles Wilcox, Peggy Ivie, Beth Corley, and Patricia Valladares attend a weekly ballroom dancing class for blind and visually impaired participants.  Each winner will receive $1,000.
Jane Sheehan of Silver Spring, Md. was the second prize winner of $1,000.  Richard Preston of Fargo, N.D., won the $500 third prize.
Thanks to everyone who purchased a ticket to support “The ACB Braille Forum.” We sold $14,000 worth of tickets and raised $7,500 for the Forum, which will pay for one month’s issue.  Thanks to the ACB board for selling over 150 tickets. The top ticket sellers were Allan Peterson (41), Tim Van Winkle (35), Leslie Spoone (30), and Mike Godino (15).

Christine Ha 
Banquet speaker Christine Ha, seated at the head table wearing a sleeveless V-neck ivory dress, listens as Jeff Thom introduces the head table.