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84 years separates two winners of new small town award

Press Release

What can a 97-year old woman from a small township in Michigan and a 13-year-old girl from rural Oklahoma possibly have in common? Both have remarkable records of volunteerism in their communities, and both have won prestigious national recognition as a result.

Violet Lenz, 97, from Wheatfield Township, Mich. and Hannah Cross, 13, from Newkirk are among the 100 winners of the Small Town America Civic Volunteer Award (STACVA), announced last week. The sponsors of the program were so moved by the stories of the youngest and oldest nominees for the award that they decided to give a special $1,000 community grant to their towns in addition to the free Web site and technology package that was part of the STACVA program.

“Violet and Hannah are among the most powerful examples of grassroots, community volunteerism I’ve ever witnessed,” said Bart Russell, principal of the Barton Russell Group, which administered and judged the program.“They represent two ends of the spectrum from an age standpoint. Yet, they have one amazing connection — both are deeply committed to making their small towns better places for hometown folks to live. And both have been making this happen in spectacular fashion.”

Violet Lenz first moved to Wheatfield in 1949 and immediately began her volunteer service with the township cemeteries. She continues today in the role of sexton and ensures the cemetery records and grounds are maintained and that the veterans’ graves have flags all summer.

She became involved with elections when she was the secretary for the superintendent of the local school district, and has continued to serve as chairman of elections for the past 70-plus years, ever since Harry Truman was in the White House. She has also served on the township Planning Commission since 1979.

Violet is an avid bowler and, to no one’s surprise, serves as the designated driver for her women’s team.

“Violet has a community spirit like few others, and we are so fortunate to have her as a resident in our community,” said Holly Miller, the Wheatfield Township Treasurer who nominated Violet.

Hannah Cross has demonstrated that no matter your age, anyone can make an impact in their community. Her vision started with a simple map, which she created in 2017 at the age of 10 for a 4-H project, and has grown into an extensive community plan with seven unique components.

Demonstrating strong leadership at the local and state level, she helped secure a federal grant for a fitness path that will improve the historic downtown for generations to come, and she continues to work with the Newkirk Main Street program to fulfill her vision.
“Hannah was the keynote speaker at the Newkirk Main Street banquet in 2019 where she communicated that it is every citizen’s responsibility to protect and promote the tremendous treasure of Newkirk Main Street,” said Mayor Brian Hobbs on her nomination form. “Hannah loves volunteering in Newkirk and at different Main Street functions throughout the year.”

The first annual Small Town America Civic Volunteer Award (STACVA) program concluded on Sept. 15 and the winners were announced earlier last week. The program was open to towns with populations of 5,000 or less. It recognized100 winners, helping to shine a spotlight on the growing need for local engagement in critical roles like board and committee members, volunteer firefighters, election volunteers, recreation assistants and others. The top three winning honorees will receive community cash awards of $10,000, $7,500, and $5,000 for their respective communities from the sponsor, CivicPlus. A new CivicPlus community Web site will be awarded, at no charge, in the name of all 100 winning entries, including a volunteer module to aid in future recruitment efforts.

The top three national winners were Becky Ketchum of Norridgewock, Maine, Brian Shoemaker of Gilt Edge, Tenn. and Tammy Hutchinson of Hartwell, Ga. More information can be found at


1 Comment

  1. Ken Sternad on October 31, 2020 at 6:27 am

    What an incredible story. Newkirk is blessed to have someone like Hannah who already understands the importance of volunteerism and community engagement. I hope the town continues to stand behind her efforts, and I hope that Hannah goes on to achieve great things in her life. Nice job.

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