Al Smith Awards Dinner set Oct. 18; Stevie Lowery to get Smith Award for service; farmer-activist-writer Mary Berry to speak

Awards Dinner, presentation to be at Embassy Suites, Lexington; registration form is at the bottom

The annual Al Smith Awards Dinner in Lexington on Oct. 18 will spotlight a rural editor-publisher who has taken strong stands and tackled touchy subjects in her weekly newspaper, and a farmer, activist and writer who will speak about the future of rural Kentucky and rural America.

Stevie Lowery

Stevie Lowery, editor and publisher of The Lebanon Enterprise, will receive the 2018 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian. The award is co-sponsored by the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Following Lowery’s acceptance remarks, the audience will hear from Mary Berry, executive director of The Berry Center in New Castle, which continues the agricultural work of the late John Berry Sr. and his sons Wendell Berry and the late John Berry Jr., all of them staunch advocates for small farmers and land-conserving economies.

The Al Smith Award is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., the founding producer-host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” who was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission and published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee. He was the driving force for creation of the Institute, headed its advisory board and is chair emeritus. He will also speak at the dinner.

Smith nominated Stevie Lowery for his namesake award after learning of her successful campaign to pass a supplemental property tax for improvements in Marion County Public Schools. That was one of many efforts she has made to serve the public since joining the Enterprise, owned by Landmark Community Newspapers, as a reporter in 2002.

In 2016, Lowery did several stories on the school-tax issue in a sample-copy edition sent to everyone in the county, with a main headline asking, “Are Marion County children worth a nickel?” She supported the cause with editorials and kept up an active conversation about it on the paper’s Facebook page.

The next year, though her news staff had been reduced to herself, Lowery did a five-part series about drug abuse in the county. It won awards for best series and writing in the Landmark Community Newspapers chain.

Institute Director Al Cross said the newspaper’s handling of the school-tax issue was a model for community journalists who see a need and want to take a stand. “Many rural editors are reluctant to take sides on controversial issues, but when they see a wrong that needs righting, they should take a stand, while being careful to give the other side its due in stories and on the opinion pages. The Enterprise did that.”

The two series were examples of Lowery’s willingness to tackle controversial subjects, such as the first same-sex couples to be married and adopt children in the county. “I’ve never been afraid to report on what some people consider ‘taboo,’ subjects, especially in a small community,” she says. “I’ve also not been afraid to open up about personal struggles that myself or my family have been through in hopes that my story might help someone else.” For the last edition with the drug series, she wrote a moving column about her late father’s addiction to alcohol.

Lowery is the daughter of Susan Spicer Lowery, a cooking columnist for the Enterprise since 1979, and the late Steve Lowery, who was an award-winning editor and manager of Landmark papers in Lebanon, which he left in 1987, and Bardstown. She is a graduate of Murray State University and is a long-time member of the KPA Board of Directors.

Lowery has also been a civic activist in her native county. She shaved her head to raise money for children’s cancer research; she organized and still leads Marion County Girls on the Run, which helps 8- to 13-year-old girls train for a running event, build self-esteem, learn assertiveness, respond to peer pressure and bullies, surround themselves with positive influences and complete a community-service project, with the goal of preventing at-risk activities as they grow up.

“The Al Smith Award is for journalism, but there are other ways community journalists can serve the public, and doing so helps show that they have the community’s interests at heart,” Cross said.

Mary Berry

Mary Berry and her brother, Den Berry, lived with their parents, Wendell and Tanya Berry, at Lanes Landing Farm near Port Royal for most of her childhood. After graduation from the University of Kentucky, she farmed for a living in Henry County, first with dairy and tobacco, then diversifying to organic vegetables, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef.

She is married to Trimble County farmer Steve Smith, who started Kentucky’s first community-supported agriculture enterprise. If daughters Katie Johnson, Virginia Aguilar and Tanya Smith stay in Henry County, they will be the ninth generation of their family to live and farm there. Berry speaks all over the country as a proponent of “agriculture of the middle,” in defense of small farmers, with the hope of restoring a culture and an economy that has been lost in rural America.

The Al Smith Awards Dinner is an annual fund-raiser for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass SPJ chapter, which conceived the Smith Award. But it is also “a grand gathering of people who believe in journalism as an essential element of our democratic processes and want it to observe high standards; who recognize the importance of rural America to the rest of the country; and who agree with us that rural Kentucky and rural America deserve good journalism just as much as the rest of the state and nation, to help our democracy work,” Cross said.

The dinner will also recognize recipients of the SPJ chapter’s student scholarships and Oregon editor-publisher Les Zaitz, winner of the Institute’s 2018 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism. Cross presented that award to Zaitz in Oregon in July.

The dinner will be held at the Embassy Suites on Newtown Pike, near Interstates 75/64 in Lexington. Tickets are $125 ($50 for SPJ members) and can be reserved at www.ukalumni.net/AlSmithDinner18. For more information, contact Al Cross at 859-257-3744 or al.cross@uky.edu; or SPJ Bluegrass Chapter President Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com.

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