An attendee to the 2018 Athena Award ceremony enjoys work by the Athens Photo Project at the Southeast Ohio History Center on Thursday, December 13, 2018. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

Elise Sanford Honored With 2018 Athena Award

Posted on:

< < Back to

On Thursday, December 13, the Athens City Commission on Disabilities awarded Elise Sanford, the founder of the Athens Photo Project (APP), the 2018 Athena Award at the Southeast Ohio History Center. Nate Thomson, the director of APP, accepted the award on the behalf of Stanford, who passed away at the age of 88 on March 23, 2018.

The Athena Award is given to a person who demonstrates “outstanding service over a period of years and a dedication in their thoughts and ideas to the betterment of the community for people with disabilities,” according to a Berry Dilley, the founder of the Athens City Commission on Disability.

Carolyn Lewis welcomes attendees to the 2018 Athena Award Ceremony

Past recipients include Larry Jageman, the former chair of the Athens City Commission on Disabilities and former Special Education Professor at Ohio University (2015); Michael Pletcher, a former member of the Athens City Commission on Disabilities and the former director of ATCO (2016); and Noriko Kantake of the Appalachian Family Center for Autism and Disability Resources and Education (2017). Jageman and Pletcher were recognized posthumously.

The Athens Photo Project is an 18-year old organization that was established by Sanford in order to allow those in recovery from mental illness to utilize art to progress in their recovery and better develop their personal voice.

Attendees to the 2018 Athena Award ceremony enjoy the Athens Photo Project images on display at the Southeast Ohio History Center after the ceremony. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

The ceremony opened with words from Mayor Steve Patterson, who introduced Dr. Carolyn Lewis, a member of the Athens City Commission on Disability, to welcome those in attendance for the ceremony.

“When we encounter challenges, it helps to have someone come alongside us with practical and emotional support,” said Lewis. “These relationships can give us strength, purpose, and comfort.”

Lewis cited the words of the late Mr. Fred Rogers, who famously implored viewers to “look for the helpers,” which Lewis cited Sanford as very much being.

Mayor Patterson then explained the history of the Athena Award, which was originally known as the Service Award.

Director of the Athens Photo Project, Nate Thomson, addresses the crowd gathered at the Southeast Ohio History Center for the 2018 Athena Award ceremony, honoring Elise Stanford. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

“When I became chair of the Commission on Disability (…) I remember thinking that that award, as nice as it was, had a name that just sort of laid there. I thought that we, as a community, could do better,” said Patterson.

“(The Athena Award) used to have a name that didn’t have a lot of romance,” said Dilly in an interview with WOUB prior to the ceremony. Dilly was on the committee for renaming the award, and she reached out to her son, asking him what he would call such an honor. “He said, ‘how about the Athena Award?’ I mean it was like – duh! It was so obvious. We all decided that was a good one.”

The Athena Award was designed by local artist Kevin Morgan. Is made of wood and glass, with the glass taking on the shape of a flame, and the sleek wood creating a pillar underneath it.

“When we were designing the award, we were thinking about people with disabilities, people who are blind, people with hearing impairments, people with mobility problems – so we were thinking about how we could create something that would be unique and that people would be pleased to have in their home,” said Dilly.

Attendees to the 2018 Athena Award ceremony enjoy hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Purple Chopstix. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

After giving a brief summary of the history of the award, Patterson gave the 2018 Athena Award to Nate Thomson.

“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Elise this evening,” said Thomson. “It is difficult to be here, in the same space where Elise’s memorial was held almost a year ago – many of you were there, and many of you have memories of Elise. (…) Elise brought something authentic to the world that nobody else could – just as we all do, really. But what was unique to Elise was that sense of authenticity, that depth of meaning – Elise wasn’t someone who just looked at the surface.”

After the ceremony, the history center remained open for attendees to enjoy hors d’oeuvres and the APP exhibition that is on display at the museum currently, entitled Familiar Places.