WASHINGTON – Evansville,Ind.,police officers Billy Bolin and Paul Kirby joined the ranks of some of the nation’s most noted community volunteers when they accepted a national award for public service Tuesday night.
As part of the 33rd annual Jefferson Awards ceremony,Bolin and Kirby received one of five Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for building Kids Kingdom,a 12,000-square-foot playground in Evansville's Sunrise Park. The two raised more than $130,000 and found about 1,300 volunteers to build the play area,which has made the park one of the most popular in the city.
Jefferson Awards are the “Nobel Prize for public service,” given annually to recognize unsung heroes who spend time and energy in their communities,said Sam Beard,president of the American Institute for Public Service,which gives the awards.
“What we’re actually saying is that Billy Bolin and Paul Kirby and their spirits are equally as valuable as Sandra Day O’Connor and Colin Powell,” Beard said of two former winners of the national Jefferson Award for public figures.
The duo will bring back to Evansville the city’s second national Jefferson Award. In 2003,Bridget McDaniel,founder of the nationally recognized Tales & Scales musical troupe,was honored.
Sen. Richard Lugar,R-Ind.,said he was excited to see Indiana natives win one of the national honors.
“It’s rare that our Hoosiers are selected to be among the national winners,” Lugar said.
Bolin and Kirby,both seven-year veterans of the Evansville Police Department,drove to Washington Sunday with their wives after learning in May they had been chosen to represent the city at the national awards at Union Station. “It’s been kind of overwhelming,” Bolin said. “I’m kind of out of my element in big,fancy,dinner-type things.”
Before Bolin and Kirby learned of their national award,they both said they felt the true reward for their work is the playground’s popularity. The officers,each with three children,hear pleas to go to the park from their own children,said Billy’s wife,Mitzi Bolin.
Kirby’s oldest son,Daniel,13,even helped with the park’s construction,Lee Ann Kirby said.
“If we weren’t parents,I don’t think either one of us would have ever embarked on this,” Billy Bolin said.
Bolin,Kirby and their wives also attended dinners and receptions where they heard the stories of the other 74 regional Jefferson Award winners from across the country.
“I was a little humbled at the dinner because there were some phenomenal things” done by other winners,Kirby said. Bolin said a fellow award winner who had written personal replies to Santa letters for almost half a century impressed him.
In addition to meeting leaders and other winners,the two also toured the city. The officers visited sights they had not seen in previous trips to the capital,including Ford’s Theater,the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
“They sit you down and basically get on stage and explain movement by movement what was going on,” Kirby said.
The four other “unsung heroes” recognized at a formal dinner Tuesday evening were Coke Hallowell,Fresno,Calif.,who contributed a ranch for a nature preserve; Corwin Marbly,Chicago,who worked to improve neighborhood conditions; Rosie Leeta Abrams,Dallas,who founded a youth program; and Marcelle Citron,Lafayette,La.,who provides food and prescription drugs to needy people.
The public figure Jefferson Award winners included Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton for their work leading the national Sept. 11 commission. Hamilton is a former Indiana 9th District congressional representative and an Evansville native.
Also honored in the public figure category were Vartan Gregorian,president of the Carnegie Corp.,for his work in education; Dave Pelzer,for his work in child abuse prevention; and Ben Shuldiner,for creating a charter school in New York that requires students to perform public service.
More than 150 media outlets in 95 communities submitted nominees for this year’s awards.