FRANKFORT, Ky. (Dec. 5, 2019) – Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes honored four iconic Kentuckians for their unique contributions to the Commonwealth at a Medallion Ceremony held in the State Capitol Rotunda on Thursday. The honored recipients include Raoul Cunningham, Tamara Sandberg, Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Adams, III, and Mary Sue Helm.
The Medallion Award recognizes outstanding service and the furthering of the National Association of Secretaries of State’s (“NASS”) goals in elections, civic education, service to state government, or a commitment to philanthropic giving. It is the highest award that a Secretary of State can present.
“I am pleased to celebrate Raoul, Tamara, Ben and Mary Sue today for the countless sacrifices they have made in this Commonwealth and nation,” said Grimes. “They have each made a huge impact respectively on civil rights, the initiative to end hunger in the Commonwealth, assisting our veterans, and the election process in Kentucky.”
Cunningham’s impact on civil rights began in 1957 when he first joined the NAACP as a young teenager, soon leading demonstrations that would end segregation in Louisville, even participating in the 1963 March on Washington and working on the successful Georgia Davis Powers campaign for the Kentucky Senate. He serves on the Kentucky Advisory Committee for Help America Vote (HAVA) and has received numerous awards for his contributions to civil rights. Cunningham, through the NAACP, has worked diligently with the Office of the Secretary of State over the years to ensure that the voices of African Americans are protected and heard on Election Day.
“Secretary Grimes has been a leader on the frontlines of civil rights especially when it comes to increasing access to the ballot box for all Kentuckians,” said Cunningham. “I am honored to receive this award and there is still work to be done. I remind each of you that the most important thing we can do in this democracy is vote.”
Sandberg began volunteering in soup kitchens and at food pantries in high school. She currently serves as Executive Director of Feeding Kentucky, which has seven regional food banks and 800 local charitable food organizations. In this position, she has mobilized support for legislation to end hunger. Through Feeding Kentucky, Sandberg has aided the Office of the Secretary of State with the annual Commonwealth Bowl, a competition between both public and private organizations to collect food bank items. In three years, she has led the collection of approximately 400,000 lbs. of food, providing around 4,000 Kentuckians with a year of meals. She also partnered with Secretary Grimes on the Farms to Food Banks initiative, which compensates farmers for a variety of produce that is distributed to Kentuckians facing food insecurity.
“I am humbled and honored to receive this award,” said Sandberg. “Although I am being recognized today, it is leaders like Secretary Grimes that make my work possible every day. To me, working with her is the biggest honor I could receive.”
Brig. Gen. Adams has spent 40 years in the U.S. Army and in the Kentucky National Guard and has been has been assigned to several active duty tours, both in state and abroad. Adams is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Kentucky National Guard Memorial. Adams worked with Secretary Grimes to produce Kentucky’s first ever Military Civic Health Report that highlights the contributions from veterans to the Commonwealth, as well as issues plaguing our military men and women, such as employment and PTSD. He also contributed to Grimes’ statewide Boots to Business initiative, which has encouraged our veterans to pursue entrepreneurship. Adams was also instrumental in turning nursing homes into polling locations, making it easier for senior and disabled Kentuckians to vote.
“Although Alison claims that I mentored her these last eight years, it is I that has been mentored,” said Adams. “Her leadership and commitment to the veterans of the Commonwealth is incomparable and we will continue to stand up for our veterans and serve those who serve our country every day.”
Helm has worked in state government for over 30 years, beginning in the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, but with the majority of those in the Office of the Secretary of State. She has served as Director of Administration and Elections under Secretary Grimes for both terms, where she has managed fiscal and personnel matters, public documents, legal affairs, and special projects and commissions. Helm has offered a wealth of election law and process knowledge and experience to the Office of the Secretary of State under six Secretaries.
“Many people ask why do I stay with the secretary of state’s office,” said Helm. “To them, I simply say, ‘You must not have met the Secretary.’ Working for the past six Secretaries of State has been the honor of my life and I am humbled for the recognition today.”