The St. Augustine City Commission currently reviews and approves nominations for four distinct and important awards: the Order of La Florida, de Aviles Award, Adeline Sanchez Award and Citizenship Award.
The Adeline Sanchez Award recognizes men and women who have made significant contributions to the city’s historic preservation, restoration, education or interpretation. City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline was the deserving 2017 recipient.
The Citizenship Award is presented annually to graduating St. Johns County high school seniors and carries with it a $200 scholarship. There were nine outstanding recipients in 2017.
The Order of La Florida and the de Aviles Award are considered the city’s two most prestigious awards. Nominees are evaluated with considerable scrutiny — sometimes sparking a bit of public and private wrangling.
While each award is prestigious in its own right, I’d like to see the city commission establish a Living Treasures program for people who have made unselfish contributions to St. Augustine but might not meet the criteria for any of the existing recognition awards.
Honoring living treasures began in Japan in 1950 and soon spread elsewhere — but on a national scale at first, not local. It took Mary Lou Cook, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, to found that city’s Living Treasures program in 1984. Dozens of other cities and counties nationwide have since adopted the Santa Fe model.
In Santa Fe — and most other towns or counties — a person needs to be at least 70 years old to be considered. And in Hartford County, Maryland, north of Baltimore, not only must a recipient be at least 70, but also he/she must have been a county resident for at least 40 years.
In Shawano County, Wisconsin, 2017 recipients included a truck driver, a husband and wife who support a local meals program and a woman who established a domestic violence program.
In Taos, New Mexico, a retired woodland firefighter was recently proclaimed a living treasure. And up in Northfield, Minnesota, a woman described as a “garden artist” was named a living treasure for her work to beautify a downtown public square and other public spaces.
During my term as mayor of a small town in Northern California, I had the high honor and privilege of presenting two Living Treasure awards, including one to a genuine national treasure — iconic folk singer, storyteller and baseball fan, U. Utah Phillips.
In some cities and counties, recipients are determined by an arts council or some other nonprofit organization. And in some they are chosen directly by the local political body. In this community’s case, I believe having the official imprimatur of the nation’s oldest city would be an important validation for any person designated a St. Augustine Living Treasure.
If a St. Augustine Living Treasures program was established, an inaugural recipient would doubtless be Carrie Johnson — the beloved Voice of Lincolnville and heart and soul of St. Augustine.
If you have lived here for more than a few months, you’ve likely heard about Miss Carrie. Maybe you’ve seen her riding through town on her adult tricycle offering a cheerful “Hi, darlin’” to locals and tourists alike? Or maybe you saw The Record’s coverage of a special night this past December when she was honored for her many years of bringing joy to the elderly and others through her annual Christmas caroling excursions on the Red Train?
Carrie Johnson is exactly the kind of person for whom living treasure programs are designed. She represents everything that is good about St. Augustine.
If the city commission agrees to this idea, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t, I suggest they appoint an initial decision-making committee of maybe eight or nine longtime residents from the arts, churches, service organizations, fraternal organizations, historical society and the like — but no commissioners or city staff. Such decisions should be as independent and free from political maneuvering as possible.
Hope it happens, and soon — while some of our most deserving living treasures are just that: living.
Steve can be contacted at email@example.com