GRAND Magazine is pleased to present this year’s winners and 10 finalists, all nominated by GRAND readers. This award is sponsored by REALforMe.com - Powered by Humana, 1800Flowers.com, American Humane Association and Mattel, Inc.
Introduction by Jack Levine:
A Labor of Love
Trust me on this: Choosing 10 finalists for the 2011 GRANDparent of the Year Award was no simple task. Making the decision felt like a long day’s visit to a wonderful botanical garden and being asked to name 10 favorite flowers of the hundreds observed. Each and every one is unique in its beauty and certainly a wonderful, one-of-a-kind expression of nature’s bounty.
So it is with the truly fabulous field of nominations for this year’s award. Every GRAND nominee is a special person in the lives of their family and community, meriting special attention and consideration. All of us judges were deeply moved by the true stories of strength and compassion, sacrifice and passion, and an almost universal sense of service over self.
The nominators ranged from the sweet and creatively spelled words of a 6-year-old grandson to lifelong friends who have experienced the admirable character of their nominee for many decades. The tears trickled as I read of the struggles to cope with hardship – physical, emotional and physical. Some nominations provided inspiring insights into how the treasured wisdom of the ages is shared with the young in joyous ways.
And we read a glowing glossary of nominee’s personal interests – home crafts, athletic endeavors, artistic pursuits and history, all shared as a bond from one generation to another.
The common thread of every nomination was that love, freely shared without judgment, is the clearest expression of who we are in our finest days. This legacy of love is what makes grandparenting such a powerful force for good.
We at GRAND express our sincere gratitude to all the nominators and extend our heartfelt congratulations to our nominees and honorees for who they are and what they do for others of every age and stage of life.
Jack Levine, Founder
GRAND Partnership Director
Grand Prize winners: Mike & Nancy Conley
Nominated by Jeff Conley
“Mike & Nancy Conley have three adult children and are wonderful, loving grandparents to four grandkids. Recently, one of their daughters [Jennifer Conley-Bridgman] passed away in her 30s. Their 8-year-old granddaughter [Gracie] had moved in with them, and Nancy felt she needed to be home more to properly care for her. While Mike was already retired, Nancy didn’t hesitate to retire from fulltime work. Well into their 60s, they are essentially starting over. This act of self-sacrifice goes above and beyond the responsibilities of a grandparent and embodies love, dedication and putting the grandchild’s needs before their own.
“But it began long ago….
“As one of their children, I grew up with my grandma (Nancy’s mother) at home. I didn’t think anything of it. I just knew how awesome it was to have Grandma there with us. Looking back, I now realize the sacrifices that Mike and Nancy made. Nancy’s mother had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. They moved in to care for her.
“They have shown (and continue to show) what loving and taking care of each other looks like. They don’t question. They do what needs to be done. They give fully; they serve humbly; they love completely. They don’t do it for recognition. Which is why it would be such a GRAND surprise for them to be honored as your 2011 GRANDparents of the Year!”
2011 GRANDparents of the Year Mike & Nancy Conley responded:
“Being grandparents is the most rewarding career in one’s life. It is humbling to be selected to represent all who love loving and being loved by our grandchildren. We have been truly blessed.” - Nancy Conley
“Wow, to be selected is very humbling, to say the least. I get very emotional when I think about it. Our love is spread around because He (Jesus) gives us so much to hold on to. So we take some of this Love and give it away. Holding up day to day reminds me of the 10-finger prayer verse from the Bible: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Ten words, ten fingers.” -Mike Conley
The 10 Finalists:
Nominated by Norman H. Penner, Jr.
“When our son was deployed on the Iwo Jima for a five-month humanitarian tour, there was no hesitation in answering the need of this single-father Marine to care for his four children ages 3-13. Nanna became Mom and Dad for the five months but accomplished so much more. Getting up at 6 a.m. to get middle schoolers off with lunches packed, going to the library for reading with the 3-year-old, doing homework and reading assignments with all the children, visiting the schools for parents night and cooking hundreds of meals are all to be expected. But Jan used the time to paint all the rooms, including the bedrooms based on the grandchildren’s favorite colors. She made curtains for the rooms, taught the two older girls quilting and sewing and gave unconditional love. I am so proud of her, our grandkids and our son’s service.”
Nominated by Asheleigh Charbonneau
“My grandma, Betty Cornelius, should be grandparent of the year, as she successfully got me through school as I just graduated grade 12. Grandma has run CANGRANDS from a corner in her bedroom and out of her own pockets. Grandma runs three online lists and started the first known KINSHIP camp and conference, which is in its 10th year.”
Nominated by Rena Larkin
“After Angela’s daughter passed away, she took in her daughter’s two children, grandson age 4, with FAS, and granddaughter, 6 months old, to raise and has continued to dedicate all of her love and attention to both of her grandchildren with special needs alone with very little help or assistance.
“Angela Magliozzi as a single parent not only deserves the Grandparent of this year and every year to come through the sheer dedication, love and selflessness she gives to her two grandchildren every day.”
Upon learning of her nomination, Angie said, “Rena’s words made me cry – good tears, of course, that I have such a loving friend. I am extremely humbled, I truly am. People ask, how do you do it? And I answer that I don’t know, I just do it.”
Nominated by Nettie Perry Bryant
“Kathy Gaillard and I have been friends for more than 35 years. She is a bright, intelligent and professional woman who owned her own business. In 2005 her granddaughter was taken into foster care because of her daughter and due to circumstances she was not aware of. She fought for and ultimately received custody of her 5-year-old granddaughter and eventually also took custody of her grandson, who was 15. She had just started a successful PR firm that was taking off and just beginning to make money, and she left the firm (her two partners took over) to move to Virginia to raise her two grandchildren. She has sacrificed her life and career to give her two grandchildren a home. Recently her grandson graduated from high school (quite a feat because his GPA was only 0.014 when he came to live with her). She deserves the recognition for being a woman who has put her life on hold to ensure her grandchildren have a chance at being successful. I know personally of the struggles she has endured and the sacrifices she has made. I admire her strength, commitment and faith as she pours it into the lives of these young people. Without her love, commitment and guidance to these two kids, I feel certain their lives would be a lot different. Kathy Gaillard IS the epitome of a SUPER grandparent!”
After her nomination, Kathy told GRAND: “It’s a privilege and honor to be recognized for doing something that I believe God has ordained me to do, and it’s heartwarming and unexpected to receive earthly rewards.”
Debra & Joseph Kelsey (Patrick)
Nominated by Michael Lewis Patrick
“I know my Papa & Grandma are the best grandparents, because they take care of me & my twin brothers. They have raised me since I was one yr old and I am now 11. They show us love like no one else has ever do. They teach us how to be good and will always take time to listen and be there for us. They both have taught me to respect and care for others. They keep my brothers all summer and drive for many hours to pick them up every weekend. They have given up so much life to care for and take care of us. Please make them the best grandparents of the year, because they are. Oh ya, they take us fishing, swimming, RVing, church and so many more. We love them too. They teach us about growing up in the world too. They are the number 1 grandparents!!
Michael L Patrick
11 years old and from my brothers too”
Nominated by Giovana Montalvo Baer
“Estrella Caban, 60, has raised her two grandsons for the last three years. She owned a holistic wellness center and planned to retire to Puerto Rico after selling her practice. However, her son and his girlfriend had their firstborn child removed from them due to their inability to care for him. She fought to get kinship foster care after her grandchildren were placed in a foster home. Estrella is a leading advocate at the New York City Department for the Aging’s Grandparent Resource Center and volunteers at Public School 40 in Queens, where her grandchildren attend school. She has appeared on various media outlets such as CBS News, the Today show and the New York Daily News informing the public about the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren, need for subsidized guardianship and support groups for caregivers. Ms. Caban demonstrates the love, compassion and heart needed to raise one’s grandchildren and to advocate for other grandparent caregivers.”
Nominated by Melodye James
“In 2006 Debbie Williams’ daughter was facing the placement of her three children in foster care due to her substance abuse. Debbie accompanied her daughter to a court appointment and asked the magistrate if the children could be placed in her custody. The magistrate commented that that would never happen because of Debbie’s own alcoholism. Determined that her grandchildren would have an opportunity to remain with family, Debbie sought treatment and joined AA. After being in AA for one year, completing the Second-Time Around Grandparents Raising Grandchildren course, seeking individual mental health counseling and becoming active in the kinship support groups, and working with her Children’s Services caseworker, Debbie went to court again. By now her daughter had another child, 4 months old. Debbie again asked for custody of the children. This time the magistrate, seeing evidence of real change in Debbie and her willingness to ‘become’ the grandmother her grandchildren needed, ordered her to submit to…mouth swabs. Debbie willingly paid for the mouth swabs and had them done [daily] to evidence her commitment to remaining alcohol free. In 2008 the Richland County Juvenile Court granted to Debbie legal custody of her four grandchildren. August 2011 will mark five years that Debbie has remained clean. [Because of] Debbie’s strong commitment to family ties and her willingness to do whatever it takes to give her grandchildren the security and the legacy of family preservation, Debbie should be the 2011 Grandparent of the Year.”
In response to being chosen as a finalist, Debbie said, “It is truly a blessing to be raising my grandsons & only by the grace of God am I here today. They truly helped save my life from addiction.”
Nominated by Donne Davis
“Julie Matsushima’s devotion to making a difference in her granddaughter’s life and the lives of special-needs children inspired me to nominate her.
“When Julie learned she was going to become a grandma of identical twin girls, she was ecstatic. But her joy turned to sorrow when one of the twins, Aimee, was born with microcephaly and cerebral palsy. Doctors predicted Aimee wouldn’t live, or if she did, she would be blind, deaf and unable to speak or walk.
“Julie was the first one to enter the ICU to hold Aimee. As she did, she formed a bond with the infant. Something ‘magical’ happened for Julie, and she made up her mind to help Aimee achieve her maximum potential in life.
“This year she published For the Love of Aimee, chronicling their miraculous journey together. Throughout the book Julie credits Aimee’s spirit and determination with inspiring her to never give up. When Aimee was 2, the family learned about an innovative physical therapy clinic in Poland. Julie made seven trips to Poland with Aimee, each one a month long, and watched her grow stronger.
“Aimee is now 14 and starting high school. She uses a wheelchair and attends special-needs classes. She is able to talk and write, and enjoys socializing. One neurologist told the family that if he’d seen Aimee’s MRI before meeting her, he would never have believed it was the same child. He said it was ‘pure love from her family, combined with support and encouragement, that was responsible for Aimee’s remarkable success.’”
Carol & Ron Stickney
Nominated by Jennifer McQuillan
“When I mentioned this contest to my boys, Ryan (10) and Connor (7), and my niece, Sarah (9), they were quick to agree, ‘We know just who to nominate, Grandma S.’ After some discussion, they decided they should nominate Grandpa S. as well. After all, without Grandpa’s ok, Grandma wouldn’t be able to do half the things she does with her three grandkids. It’s the slow nod of his head and his willingness to fend for himself for a week or two at a time, that enables Grandma to travel and enjoy all she does with the grandkids!
“Grandma S. is one high-energy, high-adventure grandma. She does really cool things like jump out of an airplane, travel to Kenya and Zambia to do mission work, and rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina: things that all three grands are counting the days until they are old enough to do along with her.
“But, Grandma S. isn’t just about the big things; she always has time for the little things as well. She’s never too busy to sit and talk or to cuddle, to go fishing, or to help with a school work assignment. She helps the grandkids complete Scout badges and belt loops by sewing, baking, drilling and sawing with them when no one else has the time. Last year, she spent the hottest week of the summer at Webelos camp with Ryan, and while there agreed to be the Pack Grandma (that’s 60 grandsons!) from there on out.
“She’ll drive five hours just to see her grandsons perform in a violin recital, or to pick them up to take them to a “really wonderful” event that is happening in her hometown. Because of their grandma, the boys have seen a Broadway show, gone to LEGO camp, and spent countless long weekends with their only cousin (Sarah), who lives close to Grandma. As if that weren’t enough, she takes her grandkids (and their parents) all sorts of cool places we’d never be able to travel on our own: some close, some far away.
“But above all, Grandma S. loves her family unconditionally. She tells them she loves them, listens to them in a way NO ONE else does, asks them about their interests, and tells them repeatedly how cute they are. Grandma and Grandpa S. lost their only son, Sarah’s dad, unexpectedly two years ago. Grandma S. has worked hard to keep him alive in Sarah’s mind and to be someone Sarah can talk to no matter what, and listening to Sarah talk about her Dad and her Grandma, it’s hard to wonder if this might not be the biggest thing she’s done for her grandkids to date!
“Grandma S. is truly one spectacular grandma, and Grandpa S. is pretty great in his own, quiet, behind-the-scenes manner as well!”
Ron and Carol say: “Our grandchildren are the joy of our lives and God’s gift to us as we grow older. We love being with them and experiencing life through their eyes. They are such distinctive personalities with very different interests that it is always fun when they are around. Being grandparents to Ryan, Connor and Sarah is truly a blessing!”
Donne & Sonny Davis
Nominated by Deborah Davis (Juliet & Amelia Davis Porter)
“Baba and Zayde are the best grandparents in the world! We love them so much! We do super fun things with them like play with homemade bubbles, make blue goo, paint with watercolors, make challah and matzah ball soup, and play at the park. One of our favorite activities to do with Baba and Zayde is to dress up and perform plays and musicals together.
“Baba has been calling us since I (Juliet) was 3 years old, and telling us stories on the phone. Now we skype and Baba and Zayde read us books. They come and visit us in Sacramento from Menlo Park every two weeks and stay in our house. We love to wake them up with a little tickle to their faces. Baba makes us a special breakfast and feeds it to us under the table when we pretend we are mice.
“We take family vacations together with them every year too. They even went to Mexico with us and my (Amelia) favorite part was swimming with them and going on the raft under the waterfall!
“We are so lucky to have Baba and Zayde as our grandparents!
Juliet, 8 years old, and Amelia, 4 years old”
GRAND Magazine congratulates 2011 GRANDparents of the Year Mike & Nancy Conley and the 10 finalists.
The 2011 Grand Prize winner will receive
• From Mattel: the top 11 Mattel toys for 2011
• Flowers from 1800Flowers.com
• Award plaque
• Interview on GRAND Magazine Radio
• Recognition at grandmagazine.com.
The 10 finalists will receive Flowers from 1800Flowers.com, a framed certificate, and recognition at grandmagazine.com.