The Volunteer of the Year Award was established by District 7’s Bruce Reeve, who served as ACBL President in 2004. His proposal for a national award for volunteerism was accepted by the ACBL Board of Directors. The first recipients were from his district: Marlene Wass and Judy Nolan, co-chairs of the record-setting Gatlinburg Regional.
The award was named in 2012 for the late Nadine Wood, who represented District 6 on the ACBL Board of Directors and was known for her tireless volunteer work.
Index by Year of Award
Chuck Wilkinson is 2019 Volunteer of the Year
BY CHIP DOMBROWSKI
When Russ Jones was ACBL president in 2019, he had two opportunities to honor someone for service to bridge. First, at the Spring NABC in Memphis, as representative of the host district, he got to present an award at the Goodwill Committee reception. Later, at the end of the year, came his opportunity to choose the Nadine Wood Volunteer oftheYear.
Both times, the same name was at the top of his list: Chuck Wilkinson.
Wilkinson has been a volunteer in the Jackson MS bridge community for over 40 years, serving most of that time as the Unit 138 representative on the District 10 board. He chaired local tournaments for many of those years and represented the district on the ACBL Board from 1991 to 2005.
It was in those roles that he made an impression on Jones. “When I joined the ACBL in the mid-1980s, the tow-naments in the Jackson area were always well-organized and wellreceived by the players,” Jones said.
“When I went to him as my board representative, he was always attentive and willing to work on a solution to my problem. It was his example ofleadership and service that I set as my goal to imitate for the years I served on the board.”
Wilkinson expressed thanks to Jones. “It is gratifying to have someone recognize your contributions to the ACBL bridge community, but I still feel a little guilty knowing there are many others much more deserving of the award than I.”
Wilkinson graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and became an officer. It was during his time in the military that he learned bridge at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene TX, where the great Esta Van Zandt played. He then went to Emory University to get a graduate degree in business and worked for a few years in Mobile AL.
In 1976, Wilkinson returned to his hometown of Jackson to work for
the state government, becoming the chief investment officer for the state pension plan. Soon after his return, local club owner M.C. Reed persuaded Wilkinson to become active in the bridge club. He joined the board and began chairing tow-naments.
In the mid-’80s, Wilkinson took over as a club owner and manager, became a club director, and ran a game for about 20 years. He also taught for a few years. “I was able to step aside as more and better teachers came into our fold,” Wilkinson said.
In the early ’90s, when fear of neighborhood crime dampened the Jackson club’s attendance, Wilkinson led an effort to relocate the club to a more desirable area, soliciting financing and overseeing construction.
“Naturally, all this work at the club and unit level gave me the experience and knowledge to be the Unit 138 representative to the District 10 board, a position I have held since the early
’80s, except for the 15 years that I was the District 10 representative on the ACBL Board,” Wilkinson said.
During his four decades of administrative leadership, Wilkinson served as club president (in the ’80s and in 2009), unit president and district president (in the ’80s and 2016-17). He was even elected ACBL president for 2006, but resigned before taking office because he lost his district re-election. He continued as a trustee of the ACBL employee pension fund until it was abolished years after his time on the Board.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Wilkinson chaired the district Katrina Relief Fund, distributing contributions to rebuild clubs that were devastated. Next came a committee that studied declining district revenues in 2007.
Since 2007, he has chaired the tournament oversight committee, where he remains active, ensuring regionals comply with district policies.
“I have enjoyed my stewardship as an ACBL volunteer,” Wilkinson said.
“As younger members begin to assume these various roles, I am most proud that I helped establish a solid founda- tion upon which they could build.”
Shawn Stringer’s house smells like glue.
“I’m in the middle of a big project,” she says upon answering the phone.
Of course, Stringer is always in the middle of a big project. That’s why she’s the 2018 Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year.
In this case, the project is refurbishing the metal boards that District 6 uses at its tournaments: removing the old felt, boiling the boards, scraping off the residual glue, attaching
new custom-made strips of self-sticking felt and repainting the vulnerability indicators. She was having people over at her Silver Spring MD home the next day to help out with the last steps and was trying to finish cleaning off the glue before they arrived.
Some previous sets of boards were refurbished in time for use at the Chesapeake Regional in November 2017. She also washed all of the district’s bidding boxes in her dishwasher during the summer of 2016, and players noticed the first time the clean ones were used at the Hunt Valley Regional that August.
As regional manager since 2015, Stringer is responsible for making sure all of the necessary equipment is on site for district events. She was also district president for three years until September 2018, chaired several regionals during that time and is president of the Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference. Of the four jobs, regional manager is by far the hardest, Stringer says. “This is a significantly more demanding and time-consuming job than president because I handle all of the operational side of the regionals, in contrast to the prize and entertainment side, which the tournament chair handles.”
Working with all the equipment made Stringer acutely aware of its poor condition, Jane Farthing noted in her nomination letter. “Imagine a volunteer who took it upon herself to
improve player experiences at section- al and regionals by physically cleaning the equipment. She turned her house into a virtual cleaning service.”
Why put up with the constant glue smell?
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Stringer says. “When I see something that needs to be done, I think, ‘I can do this.’ It’s pride. I started a job and I don’t want to quit.” Also, although maintaining the metal boards requires work, they’re much more durable than plastic boards, which need to be replaced frequently. Stringer looks for ways to keep district costs down.
The volunteer award is named for Nadine Wood, who was District 6’s doer-in-chief for many years. It was her death in 2011 that led to Stringer becoming more involved. Wood filled so many roles that it’s hard to describe the void that was left behind in the Maryland/DC area.
“When she died, I was asked if my name could be given to the ACBL as the Bethesda tournament chair until they found someone else willing to run it,” Stringer says. “As you can imagine, once my name was out there, the search ended!”
Starting in 2012, Stringer ran the Bethesda Regional in even years and the Chesapeake Regional in odd years until they were both scheduled in 2017 to avoid conflicting with the 2016 Summer NABC in Washington DC. Because she liked Chesapeake better, she found someone else to take over Bethesda, mentoring Marty and Ross Bley. She also mentored Farthing in chairing the 2016 Williamsburg Regional and Mary Jo Chiesa for Hunt Valley 2018.
Similarly, when Stringer realized there hadn’t been any non-LM sectionals in the DC area since 2005, she organized one in 2011 and served as its chair for three years. During that time, she
produced two books for I/N players that are still used as prizes. Then she turned them over to someone else.
“Shawn spends countless hours coaching other volunteers who step into new roles, especially tournament chairs and other official capacities within the district,” Farthing wrote. “She assures
them they can call upon her to provide coaching and advice throughout the planning and execution of the regional.”
For 2018 ACBL President Jay Whipple, who selected Stringer for the award, it was that focus on training others that made her the favorite. “In my book, that is job No. 1 for a volunteer: Find your replacement,” he says.
Setting an example that encourages others is part of Stringer’s motivation, she says. “Once it’s done, I can say, ‘Look what I did. Now, how about somebody else steps up?’”
Volunteering starts with a single word: Yes.
Pete Misslin has said yes many times through the years, and look where he is now: He is the 2017 Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year.
A man of several hats, Pete has been known for the past six years primarily for co-chairing the gargantuan Gatlinburg (TN) Regional.
2017 ACBL President Bob Heller calls Pete’s appointment an easy choice. “There are great volunteers throughout the League,” Heller says, “but the magnitude of Pete’s commitment stands out. What he does with Gatlinburg is like chairing an NABC every year.”
Traditionally held in mid-April, Gatlinburg is frequently called the fourth North American Bridge Championship. Last year, more than 3200 players flocked to the small mountain resort
town 39 miles southeast of Knoxville; the table count was 7936. (By comparison, the 2017 Spring NABC in Kansas City drew 8700 tables.)
Marlene Wass and Judy Nolan, the first winners of the Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year award in 2004, co-chaired the Gatlinburg Regional for 24 years.
“When Judy and I decided to retire, I was looking for someone else foolish enough to take it on,” says Wass. “I considered several people, but didn’t get the right vibes. Then I watched Pete as he ran a sectional near here. So I approached him, and he immediately responded, ‘Yes, I will run it.’ It was amazing how quickly he accepted!”
Pete says Wass popped the question in 2009, and he and his wife agreed that they would accept the Gatlinburg commitment “under Marlene’s guiding wings” for two years. Wass compiled a comprehensive how-to notebook for the new chairs before pushing the nestlings out to fly on their own in 2011.
“Volunteers in bridge come from all walks of life,” Pete says, “and they do what they do for nothing but the love of the game.”
Pete says that when he sees the smile of someone new to the game who’s earned their first masterpoints, “it is so worth it. I get excited seeing people have a good time. When it makes their
day, it makes my day.”
Heller and Pete both feel that last year’s tournament attendance was impacted by the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg in the fall of 2016. When the fires broke out, bridge players far and wide were moved to help the affected residents and businesses.
“I worked with Bill Waters, the president of Unit 165, to challenge the Knoxville Bridge Club,” Pete says. The club rose to the challenge and then some, raising $30,000 for relief efforts.
Pete and Heller organized a special District 7 charity STaC for Gatlinburg aid, and within 24 hours, eight districts had followed suit.
Waters, Misslin and two ACBL staffers were invited by the Dollywood Foundation to ceremonially present the ACBL Charity Foundation’s $25,000 check to country music icon Dolly Parton. (Bridge Bulletin, February 2017, pg. 9)
“I got calls from all over the country from people asking, ‘What can we do?’” Pete says. When everything was said and done, relief contributions from the bridge community totaled around
“We got a lot of positive press for what we’d done,” says Pete, who notes the tremendous outpouring of support for a city that doesn’t have a single ACBL-sanctioned bridge club!
Misslin grew up in a whist-playing household that advanced to contract bridge, and didn’t come to duplicate bridge until later in life. Julia dipped her toe in the pool first, then she and a
friend “dragged” Pete in.
They played at The Bridge Connection in Detroit until Pete retired. The couple moved to East Tennessee, where they live about 45 miles southwest of Knoxville.
Julia “dragged” Pete to help manage the partnership desk at the Pigeon Forge (TN) sectional, then the tournament chairs tapped them to take over. The Misslins retired in January from
Pigeon Forge after 10 years at the helm.
Last summer, Heller asked Pete to serve on the District 7 board and Pete predictably said yes. Pete’s term as vice president began Jan. 1. One of the duties of the post is chairing the district’s Tournament Operations Committee.
Pete and Julia have two daughters who live in Columbus OH, and each has a son and a daughter.
“My biggest frustration is that I can’t get my kids and grandkids to play bridge,” Pete says. “But I haven’t given up yet.”
Nancy Erickson doesn’t mind that bridge players pretend to scatter when she appears. An ace recruiter of volunteers, the diminutive 5-foot-2-inch dynamo doesn’t ask anything of others she doesn’t do herself. And according to 2016 ACBL President Ken Monzingo, she does everything. Which is why he selected her as the 2016 Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year.
“Nancy has done amazing things for the Coachella Valley bridge community,” Monzingo says, “volunteering in all aspects at tournaments and clubs. There is nothing she can’t do, and nothing she won’t do. She is a remarkable woman who exudes love and caring.”
Nancy and her husband Ron moved to the Palm Springs area in 2001. Having served 17 years on the Lansing MI Board of Education, she was well prepared to offer her services to a large and somewhat politically charged bridge unit.
She sat on the Unit 533 Board of Directors, and served as the unit’s president in 2009 and 2010.
“I played bridge every day when I was president,” Nancy says, “and I played at all the clubs across the valley.”
Her service record includes chairing or co-chairing six sectionals and five regionals, collaborating with her favorite Friday bridge partner to establish the Palm Springs Bridge Club for players in the western part of the unit and writing the unit’s monthly column for the Contract Bridge Forum. She devoted a year to developing a 501(c)(3) application for the Coachella Valley Bridge Foundation and shepherding it through the federal approval process. That foundation now operates the Duncan Bridge Center. She was appointed to the ACBL Goodwill Committee in 2011.
Nancy has a special soft spot for youth bridge.
District 17 Director and 2014 NABC co-chair Bonnie Bagley says, “When Ken Monzingo and I were searching for volunteers for the Summer Las Vegas NABC, Nancy asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’ Given several choices, she agreed to co-chair the Youth NABC with Patty Tucker and they did a phenomenal job. When Nancy tackles a task, one never needs to be concerned: The job will be done well. She is an amazing person!”
Nancy admits that going into the youth tournament, she felt like she was in over her head a little.
“I sometimes have a tendency to get into things with a steep learning curve,” she says. So she was delighted to be able to work with Tucker.
“It was phenomenal getting to know and learn from Patty,” she says. Tucker was impressed. “To tell you the truth, she had more energy than the kids!” says Patty. “Her dedication to the promotion of bridge and its future is inspiring. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with her.”
The 2014 Youth NABC was the first attended by a large contingent of Juniors from China. Nancy was concerned that the guests be able to understand the signs. Conveniently, her daughter, Megan, was hosting a Chinese student.
“We went to Kinko’s, and Megan made signs in Chinese,” Nancy recalls. “Registration went like clockwork and everyone knew where the bathrooms were.”
Her involvement in the Youth NABC resulted in District 22’s annual sponsorship of Southern California youth players including Nolan Chang and Luke and Jake Williams. Nancy says, “I am so proud of their accomplishments.”
In 2011, Unit 533 recognized the Ericksons’ extraordinary contributions by establishing the Ron and Nancy Erickson Volunteer Award.
“The award goes to an individual who has made really significant contributions to unit activities,” she says. “It recognized both of us, which was terribly important to me.”
Recently, Nancy helped revamp the Unit 533 website. With her experience and contacts, she is also the local go-to person for matters involving ACBL rules, regulations and protocol.
“How very grateful I am to ACBL staff in Horn Lake,” Nancy says. “Since 2008, there isn’t a time I’ve called that I haven’t gotten what I needed, and they’re always so positive. They make volunteering easy.”
You remember that temblor that shook the Bay Area bridge world in July 2011? That was the Rosenbergs – world champion Debbie, Hall of Famer Michael and Junior star Kevin – crossing the
threshold of their new California home. It didn’t take long for the expatriate New Yorkers to find volunteer opportunities to give back to the game.
Singling out Debbie Rosenberg’s tireless efforts on behalf of ACBL and USBF Junior programs, 2015 ACBL President Suzi Subeck named her the 2015 Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year.
“I chose Debbie because she has had such a truly positive impact on the league,” says Suzi. “It is quantifiable.”
No one is more surprised than Debbie, and she is quick to deflect the spotlight.
In May 2013, an avid group of bridge evangelists that included Debbie launched Silicon Valley Youth Bridge (SiVY Bridge), and she was convinced to be the group’s first president.
“Unit 503 has long had a strong volunteer tradition,” she says, “and there were extremely capable people interested in starting a youth program.” She adds that the San Francisco–based Center for Bridge Education’s offer to fiscally sponsor the group was, and still is, crucial.
“For several years, I had been aware of, and admired, Patty Tucker’s program in Atlanta,” Debbie says, “but I never set out to run an organization. I never thought I possibly could.”
SiVY Bridge offers free after-school classes to fourth- through eighth-graders, and a monthly party so that the kids in the various programs could meet. As it has grown, activities have expanded to include casual Fridays, parent-child games, two (going on three) wildly successful summer camps, the Bay Area High School Bridge Championship and, in collaboration with Palo Alto
Unit 503, an annual showdown between Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley.
The nonprofit organization also offers scholarships for players interested in attending the Youth NABC. Last year, they sent 14 members to Chicago. In addition to financial support, these young players were afforded special training in etiquette, strategy and partnership skills.
“So much of the current success of Silicon Valley Youth Bridge is due solely to committed and hardworking volunteers,” Debbie says, “and to our donors. There are several volunteers who easily deserve this award.”
She estimates that more than 100 volunteers have contributed to SiVY Bridge since its startup, “and at least 60 have been active in the last year.” One of those hardworking volunteers is her son, Kevin, who she’s watched grow as a teacher and an organizer.
“He has contributed a huge amount of time and effort to the program,” she says proudly.
SiVY Bridge records show that the group has brought in 80 ACBL youth members. Debbie is a big supporter of ACBL events overall, helping kids find partners and teammates and encouraging them to participate in club games, sectionals and regionals.
Working with USBF Junior Coordinator Joe Stokes, Debbie was instrumental in building the USBF Junior Training program.
“I cannot say enough about all the good work Joe does!” she emphasizes. She later worked with Michael and Barry Goren to create the current model. Nowadays, she is a part-time mentor and consultant for the USBF program so that she can devote most of her energy to SiVY Bridge.
Debbie plays and teaches bridge professionally. She was a member of the 1991 gold-medal Junior World championship team; two years later, her team finished third in Aarhus, Denmark. She won gold medals in the 2002 World Championship Women’s Pairs and the 2007 Venice Cup.
“How Debbie accomplishes all that she accomplishes while still being a great player in her own right is beyond me!” says Suzi. “She wants bridge to succeed and flourish.”
In the long history of the ACBL Goodwill Committee, there have been many magic moments at the committee’s thrice-yearly receptions. It would be hard to top the introduction of Kitty Gottfried as one of the two recipients of the Nadine Wood Volunteer of the Year award for 2014.
There were few dry eyes in the audience when the diminutive Gottfried was called to the podium by Goodwill Chair Sandy DeMartino. Gottfried seemed overwhelmed by the honor and was speechless for a few minutes as she listened to praise after praise for her long service to the Washington Bridge League as the queen of hospitality.
Margot Hennings, who represents District 6 on the ACBL Board of Directors, said Gottfried was the late Nadine Wood’s top helper for more than 40 years. “It’s nice to be able to recognize people who have given so much to bridge,” said Hennings.
When she took the microphone, Gottfried said she had a lot of help with her hospitality duties. “We had lots of good people from the WBF,” she said. “Volunteers need other volunteers.” As she made her way back to her seat after offering thanks for the honor, she received a standing ovation.
The honor for Gottfried was part two of the Volunteer of the Year award presented by 2014 ACBL President Bill Cook, who said he could not select just one recipient from the list of candidates given to him. As president, it was his duty to select the volunteer award winner or winners.
Co-winner Silvana Zangri was hailed for her dynamic performance as the top fundraiser during the joint operation between the ACBL and the Alzheimer’s Association last summer during the Longest Day event. Scotto’s Sagamore Bridge Club in Syosset NY (Long Island) raised more than $80,000 for the cause.
Al Levy, who represents the district that encompasses Long Island, said Zangri has few peers when it comes to energy. “She is an amazing woman,” Levy said. “She has run a number of businesses but took some time off to grow her family.” Noting that Scotto has five daughters, Levy said, “That alone gets you a medal.”
Levy said Zangri is a dynamic recruiter, outstanding club owner and volunteer, serving on the unit board.
Zangri said her success has been a team effort. “I could not do it by myself. There is an incredible group at my club.” Her family comes first, Scotto said, “but bridge is the second most rewarding thing in my life.”
Sue Kroning of Seaside OR was selected from among 237 letters of recommendation for the award. Sharon Anderson said that in reviewing the letters, she noted that the highly respected volunteers had similar characteristics: they have a great attitude, an inclination to empower others, a commitment to hospitality “and they are willing to do anything.”
Kroning is a member of the District 20 board and the ACBL Goodwill and Charity committees.
As the district’s Intermediate/Newcomer coordinator, Kroning revitalized the I/N program, producing impressive results. For example, she helped the Portland sectional increase I/N tables from three in January 1997 to 64 in January 2012. Seaside went from no I/N tables in 1997 to 24 in one afternoon in 2009. She was I/N chair for the 2004 Spring NABC in Reno.
“I owe a lot to bridge,” said Kroning, who told of moving from South Africa to Phoenix AZ and knowing no one. “I went to the bridge club and was embraced and I got a lot of new friends,” she said.
Kroning credited her husband, Robert, for his support. “The spouse,” she said, “always does a whole lot of things.”
After he visited the St. Petersburg (FL) Bridge Club, 2011 ACBL President Craig Robinson said, “I wish every club had a Charley.” He was referring to Charles Gill, club president, manager, part-time director and partnership chairman. Gill arrived in St. Petersburg from Toronto in 1999, and it didn’t take long for him to get serious about bridge. When he took over as club president and manager, the club had 250 members. It now has more than 500. Gill has had success as a player, too. He is a Gold Life Master with more than 3200 masterpoints.
Few volunteers have logged as many hours as Carl Sharp, whose specialty is the partnership desk at Chicago-area tournaments. He started helping out in 1971 and has been going strong since then, serving on the boards of Unit 123 and District 13. He has worked in many areas but he is known as Mr. Tournament Partnership Chairman. “I’ve done everything at bridge tournaments,” he says, “but I really like the partnership desk. I enjoy helping people find a suitable partner.” Sharp, a Gold Life Master, is a member of the National Goodwill Committee.
Bonnie Bagley, District 17 representative to the ACBL Board of Directors, joined the ACBL in 1994 after finding out about duplicate and quickly became immersed in the administrative side of the game. She is still caddie chair for tournaments in Unit 360. She was assistant chair of the 2008 Summer NABC in Las Vegas and co-chair with Ken Monzingo of the 2009 Fall NABC in San Diego. Rasmus, co-chair of the Buffalo (NY) Regional and chair of the District 5 299er Regional. She has been secretary, vice president and president of the district and is renowned for her cooking and for her part in the hospitality at tournaments.
These two Texans have done it all for District 16 and their respective units. Eric Snow has been a member of the Unit 174 board of directors for many years and has taken two turns as chair of Spring NABCs in Houston, in 2002 and 2009. The district honored him in 1998 with the Oswald and James Jacoby Service Award. Bert Onstott is the district webmaster, completely revamping the website within two months of taking over. He has served as unit photographer and has been the technology guru for the unit and the district.
One of ACBL’s busiest members is Ken Monzingo, chosen by ACBL President Sharon Fairchild, as Volunteer Member of the Year. The two are now colleagues on the ACBL Board of Directors. Monzingo, of San Diego, has been tournament chair for two NABCs – the 2008 Summer NABC in Las Vegas (with Bonnie Bagley) and the 2009 Fall NABC in his hometown. He has also found time to edit the newsletter for the Western Conference (Districts 17, 21 and 22) for more than a quarter century.
Another double award went to ACBL members on opposite sides of the U.S. Cindy Kirk lives in Novato CA. Roni Gitchel, who died in 2008, lived in Pittsburgh. Kirk’s list of positions in service to bridge is long and includes secretary of Unit 508 (Marin) and for the 1996 Fall NABC in San Francisco. She has also served as secretary of the District 21 board. Gitchel, of District 5, served on the ACBL Board of Governors for 20 years and was chair of the 2005 Spring NABC in her hometown.
How do you put a small town in east Tennessee on the map? You let Marlene Wass and Judy Nolan chair a regional tournament there. With fewer than 4000 inhabitants, Gatlinburg TN has set tournament attendance records for years, occasionally outdoing even NABCs, and is a Mecca for tournament players today. Wass, of nearby Knoxville, and Nolan, of Maryville TN, chaired the Smoky Mountain MABC Regional for 24 years before retiring in 2011. They earned the titles of Volunteer Members of the Year, initiated by former ACBL Board Member Bruce Reeve, who represented the District in which the tournament occurs.