By Scot Facer Proctor, Publisher, Meridian Magazine

Meridian Magazine celebrates its fifth birthday today by honoring outstanding leaders among us in the community of Saints.  To see last year’s award winners, click here

Meridian Magazine is five years old today and we celebrate again this year by honoring individuals worthy of note for their leadership and outstanding service.  After returning from Ghana, having immersed ourselves in the culture and the Church there, it was hard not to look to those who have been involved in humanitarian service throughout the world.  But education and the development of talent are also a passion of ours so this year’s recipients of the Meridian Leadership Awards are diverse and yet similar.  They are all visionaries.  They are all passionate about what they do.  They are all deeply committed.  They are all amazing.

In this world we need heroes to look up to. These are perilous times.  It is a time of great and growing evil in the world, a time to exercise great leadership.  In the January 10th Worldwide Priesthood Leadership broadcast, President Hinckley said,

“In the Church we are working very hard to stem the tide of this evil. But it is an uphill battle, and we sometimes wonder whether we are making any headway. But we are succeeding in a substantial way. We see so many of our youth who are faithful and true and who look to us for encouragement and direction.

“We must not give up. We must not become discouraged. We must never surrender to the forces of evil. We can and must maintain the standards for which this Church has stood since it was organized. There is a better way than the way of the world. If it means standing alone, we must do it.”

The following people, this year’s recipients of the Meridian Leadership Awards, have never been afraid to stand alone, to stand for purpose, to stand for good and virtue, to stand for those who are struggling or who are striving to fill the measure of their creation.  Meridian Magazine proudly honors the following individuals as the 2004 recipients of the Meridian Leadership Awards.

Emmanuel Ohene Opare Sr. & 
Monica Mettle Nunoo Ohene Opare
Accra, Ghana

When Monica Mettle Nunoo was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints her patriarchal blessing stated one very significant thing to her:  that she would marry someone who would be receptive to the gospel and together they would have great responsibilities in the church.  It has been so.  She would marry a most amazing man, Emmanuel Opare.

Elder Emmanuel Ohene Opare, Sr. was named a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 1998.  Elder Opare has served in numerous Church callings, including branch president, district president’s counselor, district president, and stake president.  He was released from his service as an Area Authority Seventy in April 2003.

He and Sister Opare are the directors of the Sunbeam Schools in Ghana, which have classes from preschool through junior high.  These are private schools teaching hundreds of children, about 50 of whom are Latter-day Saints.  Elder Opare says he has a great desire to teach these Latter-day Saint children and other children of the village to become the great future leaders of Ghana.  “If we do not teach them and educate and train them they will end up spending their lives on the streets selling small items and barely surviving from day to day.  Here in these schools there is hope for them for the future.”

Elder and Sister Opare are the parents of five children and serve as parents for many other children in need as well.

Marion D. Hanks
Salt Lake City, Utah

Someone forgot to tell Duff Hanks what emeritus means.  Marion D. Hanks has led a life of service and has given his heart to the people of the world, especially in humanitarian service.

Elder Hanks was called to be a general authority when he was 31 years old and he kept serving until he was 70.  When he was ‘released’ in 1992 from active service as a general authority he thrust himself into humanitarian works, a place where his heart had always been.

“My approach has always been that, with whatever talents and whatever limitations I may have, my purpose was to try to serve the Lord and be helpful to his work and to those who carried the burden of it. So I have tried to share, and encourage, and strengthen, and lift to the extent I could.”

Elder Hanks has served the Church in assignments around the world. His opportunities have included helping prepare England and the Philippines for the organization and growth of stakes there, and initiating charitable efforts for the Church among refugees in Asia.

“My view of the Church was that it offered the standard around which one rallied, and the center about which one constructed a life.”

Most impressive to Meridian is Elder Hanks’ service as Chairman, Emeritus, of Enterprise Mentors, International and Chairman of the Hanks Foundation.  Mentors has been helping thousands of people in the Philippines and now many other countries in the area of micro credit and training of entrepreneurs to know how to run their businesses.

Jeff Simpson
Salt Lake City, Utah

Jeff Simpson was recently named by Utah Business Magazine as one of the region’s most dynamic executives in their special “40 Under 40” issue.  Jeff Simpson has led Excel Entertainment Group into becoming one of the region’s top entertainment providers and a national player in niche film distribution.

Jeff has had a passion for many years to raise the bar in the LDS music and entertainment industry.  His passion led him to form the non-profit Faith Centered Music Association which, under his direction, has produced the annual Pearl Awards Broadcast for many years.  His work on the Pearl Awards has earned him two Rocky Mountain Emmy nominations, one in 2002 and another in 2003 for Best Entertainment Program.

Jeff’s passion in the film industry led him, after graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in both Business and Film, to work independently in the film industry for several years.  In 1988, Jeff joined Disney Studios and shortly thereafter began working in the newly formed Network Television Group.  Later, he became an Executive in the Feature and Television Management Group for Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and Buena Vista Pictures.

In 1995, after seven years at Disney, Jeff left Los Angeles to become chairman and CEO of the newly formed Excel Entertainment Group, Inc. in Salt Lake City, UT. Under Jeff’s direction Excel Entertainment Group has grown to include Retail Distribution, Motion Picture Theatrical Distribution, five record labels and divisions in Artist Development and Management.

Again, because of Jeff’s passion for film and striving to open opportunities for others in that industry, in 2001 he formed a film division of Excel.  This Motion Picture division is a successful and rapidly growing independent film distributor which has profitably marketed and distributed movies in nearly every market in North America – no small feat for a startup independent distributor.  In May 2002, AC Nielsen EDI ranked Excel in the top ten of limited release film distributors nationally.

Jeff and his wife, Karen, live in Salt Lake City, Utah with their three children.

Glade and Kathleen Knight
Richmond, Virginia

Glade and Kathleen Knight are delightful to be around.  Their zest for life is infectious.  Their charity and their kindness are far reaching.  Their joy for life and love of people spreads to all they meet.

Kathleen tells an interesting story about her husband Glade.  He had been serving as the stake president of the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake.  At that same time Dennis Webb was serving as mission president with his wife Martsie in Richmond and were piloting a special service mission.  “They literally taught us how to serve.  And once the Lord opens your mind to service, things start to happen.”

Roger Barrus became Glade’s counselor in the stake presidency.  Roger had an education background.  Glade was a businessman.  One day Roger said to Glade, “You know, there’s a school over in Buena Vista that going under.  Would you be interested in looking at it?”  Glade wasn’t really interested but he finally said he would just go over to the campus and take a look.

Glade went over to the campus and was so filled with the Spirit he could hardly take it in.  Kathleen said, “You can’t go on that campus without being smitten.  It was as if he had a vision.  He could see Latter-day Saint students walking all over this beautiful school.”  He went to the board and negotiated with them, bought the school and took it over.

Kathleen recalled, “It only took six weeks and it was ours.  We felt overwhelmed but knew it was right.  You do a lot of things when you know that it is right.  When you know something is right you do it, even though it’s hard.”  Kathleen continued:  “I can tell you that THIS WAS RIGHT.”  This was in 1996.  The school had been operating since 1867 and it never stopped.  This is how Southern Virginia University (SVU), which now serves the Latter-day Saint community, was born.

“We started that fall with just 70 students,” reported Kathleen.  “But those 70 were the most amazing students you’ve ever met.  They were multi-talented, full of the Spirit, full of enthusiasm and able to do anything and everything they were asked.  It was a miracle.”

The school now is bursting at the seams with over 600 students and a bright future.  “We want to get to the point where the tuition is going into paying for all the day to day things, salaries, etc. and then we can put other monies that come in to a building program.

Kathleen said of Glade, “I think the Lord worked with him because he’s open to things.  He’ll listen.  He loves new things.  He likes a challenge.  It’s certainly not just glade, it’s been a group effort.  But Glade has been a lot of the vision.”

Dennis Webb taught the Knights that “life is service.”  This became part of their souls so the motto of SVU is “Learn that life is service.”  The Knights epitomize this.

Kevin Clawson
Fairport, New York

Less than 6 years ago, Kevin Clawson worked 50-hour weeks in the corporate blur of business and commerce.  He was a top executive in Paychex, a very successful payroll/employer services company.  By many accounts, his life was one of normalcy and convention.  He actively participated in his community, enjoyed putting in a good day’s work at the office, and traveled with his family on summer vacations.  Little did he know that one of those family excursions would change the rest of his life.

Kevin and his wife, Patricia, had always taught their children to care for others.  When their oldest daughter, Genevieve, approached them about a trip to Africa in 1998, they wanted to encourage her desire to help others.  Kevin agreed to accompany her and about 20 other college students and two dads to Kenya.  Rick and Kindee Nielsen had organized the group to see a little of Africa and bring donations to some primary schools in Nairobi.  The experiences the group shared changed each person forever.  The group was pleased with how successful the trip had been.  Kevin wanted to do more.

Patricia and Kevin had talked for years about someday building a school in South America.  Kevin came home from the trip to Kenya and asked her how she might feel about building that school in Kenya.  Having established local contacts in Kenya, the Clawsons felt they should invest in this humanitarian project.  Before January of 1999, the Ngomongo Primary School was finished and open for 200 students.  Thus began Reach the Children.

As Reach the Children expanded to other projects and other countries, many people became involved.  In addition to the Clawsons and the Nielsens, hundreds of other people traveled to Africa on humanitarian expeditions and hundreds more became involved as volunteers and supporters.

In May of 2002, Reach the Children merged with the Starfish Enrichment Society, led by Susan and Bob Roylance.  They brought more crucial components to a well-rounded development approach: agricultural techniques, water expertise, orphan care, and the urgently needed AIDS Prevention program called Stay Alive (licensed by United Families International).

Kevin Clawson went to Africa to give something to his own children.  He found joy and hope. and opportunities to serve.  He, and so many others, have experienced personally that in trying to help some of the neediest people on earth, we are changed forever.

Kevin and his wife Patricia are the parents of five children.

2004 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.