Meridian Honors Sela

Heroes’ honored — Sela Ward named ‘Citizen of the Year’
HONOR ROLL — The Meridian Star’s "Unsung Heroes" for 2001 are, sitting from left, Eula Miller, Bea Reynolds, Beverly Trotter and Martha Janie Stennis. Standing are C.A. “Skeeter” Lang, Ray Hosley, Bruce Saterfiel, Marvin Weir, Tracy Waddell and Dick Reynolds. Bruce Martin, right, accepted the 2001 Citizen of Year award for actress Sela Ward. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star

By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star Feb. 27, 2001

The Meridian Star’s 2001 Citizen of the Year and 10 Unsung Heroes, featured in “Profile 2001: By the People,” were honored at a reception Monday night.

“The ‘Unsung Heroes’ reception is probably the most low-key awards ceremony that any of you have ever attended — because unsung heroes don’t do what they do for the recognition,” Publisher Paul Barrett told the heroes, their nominators, family and friends.

“Tell the truth, some of you were dragged here kicking and screaming, am I right?”

Muted laughter filled the room as more than one head nodded.

Meridian native and award-winning actress Sela Ward was named the 2001 Citizen of the Year.

Barrett said Ward’s involvement in the renovation of The Grand Opera House of Mississippi and Hope for Children, a shelter for abused and neglected children to be established on the former Masonic Home property, puts her in the same league with The Meridian Star’s previous Citizens of the Year.

Like G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, Mac Barnes, Drs. Richard and William Riley and Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, Ward is to be commended for contributions that make “home” a better place to be.

“Sela is pretty practical,” Barrett said. “She understands that ‘celebrity’ only lasts so long. While that window is open, she intends to use every opportunity she can to do good things for Meridian.”

Ward was not able to attend the ceremony. Her close friend, Meridian insurance executive Bruce Martin, accepted the award for her and spoke of her modesty and her deep love for the community.

“Sela wanted me to convey her appreciation. If she were here, she’d be embarrassed,” Martin said. “She’s the only person I know who can win an Emmy and a Golden Globe award and be embarrassed about it.”

Barrett compared this year’s 10 Unsung Heroes to Carl Stotz, who in 1938 “made a promise” to a small group in his Williamsport, Penn., community. A year later, he formed the Little League of America — making children’s lives better and improving the quality of life in their communities.

“That’s what you’re doing,” Barrett said. “You’re solving the problems of this community one person at a time... This year, we have a particularly deserving group.”

This year’s Unsung Heroes are Ray Hosley, C.A. “Skeeter” Lang, Eula Miller, Bea and Dick Reynolds, Marvin Weir, Bruce Saterfiel, Martha Janie Stennis, Beverly Trotter and Tracy Waddell.

As Barrett handed out their awards, he read excerpts from the touching letters he and the editorial staff received. The letters — which can be read in today’s Profile edition — celebrate our heroes perhaps better than anything else can.

“This week every year is a particularly gratifying week for us at the newspaper,” Barrett said. “Our big edition was written this year by more than 500 people in Meridian, Lauderdale County and the surrounding area. The theme this year, ‘By the People,’ is truly exemplified in this edition.”

Today’s edition features the words and work of over 500 people.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star.

Mississippi Honors Sela

SPEAKING TO THE LEGISLATURE- Actress Sela Ward talks to members of the Mississippi Senate on Thursday, in Jackson during recognition of her career accomplishments and civic contributions to Meridian and the state of Mississippi.
The Meridian Star Feb. 23, 2001
JACKSON - Fame can be fleeting, even for an award-winning actress. As Meridian's Sela Ward was honored by both houses of the Mississippi Legislature Thursday, she acknowledged that one day she would no longer be in the public eye. She promised to use her "window of opportunity" to promote Meridian, all of Mississippi and her desire to help children in need. "The most important benefit of my celebrity status is that I can use it as a platform," Ward said during her address in both chambers. "It won't be this way forever. I am committed to helping Mississippi."

She talked about the different projects on which she has worked in Meridian, such as the Grand Opera House renovation and the state's Arts Center which has been proposed for Bonita Lakes. But clearly her "Hope For Children" project is the dearest to her heart.Ward explained that two Christmases ago, she and her family delivered Christmas presents to children at Peavey House. Two small children with a very tragic background were there. When she asked them what they wanted for Christmas, they said all they wanted was a safe place to live. That stayed in Ward's heart. Her first instinct was to adopt the children, but with her hectic pace as an actress, it wasn't practical. As she drove around Meridian, she said she began to notice the old Masonic Home, which had been closed. "The Peavey House is a wonderful place, but it is short-term. The children can just stay there 60 to 90 days," Ward said. "What is needed is a permanent place for them." She began to work on the idea and "Hope For Children" was founded. The Masonic Home has been purchased and will become a home and campus for abused or neglected children.

As if to tip off her audience about her strategy, Ward asked a question: "What does it mean to be thoughtfully political?" She explained her definition. First, you have to think about what you want, and then you think about who can help you get it. "Then you get political," Ward said. "You make the people who can help you happy about giving it to you. And then it becomes a win-win situation." Currently the star of the TV series "Once and Again," Ward, her son, Austin, her parents and other family members attended the event. After addressing the Legislature, Ward met with Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Attorney Gen. Mike Moore. Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star.