Saluting our Award Winners!

The highlight of the Annual Meeting (well, besides Linda’s Spanish Rice, which we wait for all year) is the announcement of the recipients of our two honors, the Hero of History and the Distinguished Service awards. The announcement this year was made by Marsha Fottler, Vice-President of the Board of Directors, standing in for Howard Rosenthal, President, who was unable to attend.

The winners for 2016 are, for the Hero of History, Suzette Jennings Blue, and for the Distinguished Service Award, Norma Kwenski. Their accomplishments are set forth below; click their names to enjoy.

 

Historical Society of Sarasota County's 2016 award recipients: Sue Blue (standing) and Norma Kwenski (seated.)
Historical Society of Sarasota County’s 2016 award recipients: Sue Blue (standing) and Norma Kwenski (seated) in the parlor of the Bidwell-Wood House, the oldest residence in Sarasota County. Photograph courtesy of Society Director Virginia Hoffman.

Hero of History 2016

Suzette Jennings Blue

Most of us associate Sue Blue with the Saturday morning historic trolley tours that she’s been doing for our historical society since about 2004. It’s a volunteer passion and all the proceeds come directly to this organization. But, Sue’s devotion to history and education as an author, researcher, and actress goes back a lot farther than that. In many ways Sue holds the institutional memory for this historical society and it’s her we often turn to when we need clarification on some aspect of these two buildings or events that are important to the evolution of this organization.

Sue attended Southside Elementary and is a graduate of Sarasota High School, class of 1946. Her  name is actually Suzette and it’s what her classmate Pete Esthus always called her. While a senior Suzette portrayed the role of Sara de Soto in The Legend of Sara de Soto at the Municipal Auditorium. After college and a career as an actress and theater teacher, Sue returned to her hometown, Sarasota, in 1994.

She restored the childhood home built by her grandfather, Aaron E. Scarborough, in 1925. Sue became a member of the historical society in 1996 and a year later was on the board serving as program chairman. She later served as served as Vice-President of the Board. Today she is a member of the Advisory Board and was a subject for an Ordinary Historian video interview. We have copies here if you want to view it and you should because she’s had quite a life.

During her years on the this board, Sue worked on preservation projects such as the Lido Pool, Sarasota High School, the Van Wezel home, the Municipal Auditorium, the Bidwell-Wood  House and Crocker Church. She wrote our brochures and was editor of our monthly newsletter. And she authored a series of 20 articles on Sarasota history that appeared in Scene magazine. Additionally, Sue wrote and directed a staged reading of “Mr. Bidwell,” and we’re hoping for a revival of that next year.  Sue served on Sarasota County Historical Commission from 2008 – 2012.

Sue still lives in her childhood home built by her grandfather.  Her work on behalf of the Historical Society would be enough to quality her as a Hero of History, but her preservation activism in the wider community has been so outstanding for so many years, that it is time indeed for us to declare with great pride and admiration that Suzette Jennings Blue is the 2016 recipient of the Hero of History award.

Distinguished Service Award 2016

Norma Kwenski

Norma Kwenski is the volunteer that every organization wants to call their own. She’s the one who arrives early, stays late and will do anything that needs attention from weeding the garden, to taking ticket money at Conversations, ironing tablecloths, washing dishes, to hostessing at the Holiday Party and bringing homemade deserts with her. Norma is always so “on the job”  that if I arrive at Pioneer Park for an event and don’t see Norma, I assume I’ve made a mistake and come on the wrong day.

Norma and Brad Kwenski moved to Sarasota from Illinois in 1969 when their children were young. Kay was 9 and sons Brent was 7 and Kendell just 5. They moved into a 1927 Mediterranean Revival home in beautiful Sapphire Shores that had no air conditioning or heat, but plenty of vintage charm. Brad got involved with the Ringling Museum, volunteering for the Medieval Fair. And he worked with Veronica Morgan when these two buildings were in the Rosemary District. They lived in their Sapphire Shores dream neighborhood until Brad became ill and encouraged Norma to make the move to a no-maintenance condominium in Longwood Run. Brad passed away in 2007.

Norma says Jane Kirschner, who had already pulled son Brent into her community service orb, was responsible for Norma becoming a member of the Historical Society. Later Jane made sure Norma got actively involved.

“I never thought I had any special talent,” says Norma, “I just thought I’d be quiet and help where help was needed.” And that’s what she did. But, volunteering so widely and so often, has given Norma a unique perspective on our organization.  She always shrewdly observes and reports on the successes of an event and tactfully points out where we could improve things. For instance, when she was collecting money on the Crocker porch for Conversations at the Crocker a couple years ago, Norma noticed that the lack of handrails was inconvenient and downright dangerous for many people coming up and down the steps. So, she talked it over with her children and the Historical Society board and the Kwenski Krew decided to donate money in Brad Kwenski’s name for handrails. People coming to the Crocker Church bless her every day for being so vigilant and so generous.
This morning we members of the Historical Society are so happy to let Norma know that she is appreciated, not just today but every day of the year. Norma Kwenski is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for 2016.
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