Cummins Wins THEC Community Service Award

Many senior citizens, youngsters, disabled workers and nursing home patients in the Upper Cumberland may not know Mary Ann Cummins by name, but they know her by heart.

Cummins, a secretary for Tennessee Technological University's Roaden University Center, will receive the Tennessee Higher Education Commission's Love Community Service Award at its annual awards ceremony on Wednesday at Nashville's Maxwell House Hotel. Although the award will be given to her, Cummins has earned her community's love and admiration through her alter egos.

As the Easter Bunny, she delivers flowers and needed items to nursing homes and senior citizens residences. As Bubbles the Clown, she visits hospitals and retarded citizen centers. As Honeybear, she volunteers for senior birthday parties and visits sick people in their homes. As Mrs. Santa Claus, she entertains children and gives gifts.

"Since 1978, she has visited literally thousands of the hospitalized, shut-ins and nursing home patients to deliver a live carnation and a personalized card at Easter," said Tennessee Tech President Angelo Volpe. "This labor of love is accomplished with a smiling face and is done for no other reward than the happiness she sees in others."

With her "Easter Bunny Project" alone, it has been estimated that Cummins visits more than 800 people each year and has served more than 10,000 people. Through personal and solicited funds she raises enough money each year to purchase carnations, cards and other items, which she hand delivers.

"In this fast-paced world we live in, taking time out for others can become a rare commodity," said co-worker Ilene Qualls. "For Mary Ann, it's a way of life."

Cummins was one of five faculty or staff members selected from all of Tennessee's colleges and universities to be awarded a Love Community Service Award, an award that recognizes leadership and commitment to volunteer and community service.

The award was named in honor of the late Rep. Harold Love, who sponsored the legislation to create the program as a way to recognize individuals committed to community service involved in Tennessee's higher education institutions. Recipients must demonstrate public service to the community and must have a positive impact on the people they serve. The president of the institution must also submit a letter of nomination.

Previous winners of the award from the university include health and physical education professor LeBron Bell, a recipient in 1991, and students Destiny Locke and Genetta Gibson, who won back-to-back awards in 1995 and 1996. Cummins is the second staff member to win the award; staff member Pat King won in 1998.