AARP Oklahoma 2021 Andrus Award and Volunteer Celebration

Posted on 11/30/21

OK Andrus Award

AARP Oklahoma’s 2021 Andrus Awards and Volunteer Celebration virtually honored Oklahomans age 50-plus for their dedicated volunteer work across the state. The Andrus Award is named in honor of AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus and is the highest honor presented by AARP. 

To view the virtual celebration, visit

The 2021 Andrus Award was presented to JoeAnn Vermillion of McAlester for her extensive community service and advocacy work on behalf of Oklahomans age 50-plus. As the Andrus Award honoree, Vermillion received a $3,000 contribution which AARP will donate to her nonprofit organization of choice.

Andrus Award Honoree- JoeAnn Vermillion
Vermillion has devoted her life to volunteering at the local, state and national levels. She is currently an AARP Driver Safety instructor, a member of the AARP Oklahoma executive council, president of the AARP Oklahoma Pittsburg County chapter and AARP Oklahoma state volunteer president. Vermillion is also an active and fierce advocate for age 50-plus Oklahomans and believes that individuals should make their voices and votes heard. Vermillion also serves on the Oklahoma State Council on Aging.

She is a former board president for Hospice of McAlester and continues to volunteer for the organization. Vermillion also volunteers at Shared Blessings, a community outreach center in McAlester. She is also a past board president for her former employer, Kiamichi Technology Center. Vermillion is an active member and past president of Pittsburg County Retired Educators and O.S.U. Community and Home Education Club of Pittsburg County. She also serves as a board member, state conference delegate and youth advisor for Canadian United Methodist Church.

Five additional Oklahomans were also honored during their virtual celebration and named AARP Oklahoma honorees of distinction for their volunteer work. The honorees of distinction include Tamara Benson of Tulsa, Jim Cameron of Broken Arrow, Sandra Medrano of Oklahoma City, Gus Perkara of Oklahoma City and Billie Ragan of Woodward. AARP will donate $1,000 to each of the five honorees’ nonprofit organizations of choice in honor of their work.

Andrus Award Honoree of Distinction - Tamara Benson
Tamara Benson is a health outreach volunteer and board member for Health Outreach Prevention Education (H.O.P.E.) in Tulsa. Benson’s service is crucial to its mission and ability to offer free and low-cost H.I.V. and Hepatitis C testing. As a health outreach volunteer, Tamara regularly assists at the testing clinic. She is welcoming and non-judgmental as she greets clients. Benson also strives to raise community awareness and create an inclusive culture while ensuring many voices are heard. She is the annual gala chair and often opens her home for committee meetings and hosting patron parties.

Andrus Award Honoree of Distinction - Jim Cameron
Jim Cameron currently serves as the Indian Health Care Resource Center board of trustees secretary and facilities committee chair. Cameron is credited with guiding the clinic through 30 years of extensive growth, including expanding the behavioral health wing, restructuring the pharmacy space, installing a digital diagnostic imaging system and establishing dedicated wellness and community events facilities to serve over 12,000 Native Americans in the greater Tulsa area. Cameron also advocated protecting the city of Tulsa's water supply. His efforts resulted in eliminating phosphorus contamination which is caused by chicken litter in the watershed. Cameron was recently reappointed as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority. 

Andrus Award Honoree of Distinction - Sandra Medrano
Sandra Medrano has been a leading volunteer for Oklahoma City's First Americans Museum since 2005. She recruited elders to share their historical knowledge with the First Americans Museum. Medrano also recruited volunteers, facilitated staff training sessions and actively engaged tribal nations in preparation for the opening of the First Americans Museum.  She regularly volunteers to the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma, Capitol Hill High School alumni association and Putnam City Indian Education. Medrano also donates her time to the Prairie Dance Theatre, OKLAdada, North Oklahoma City Native American Fellowship, Hula on Wednesday and Rock the Native Vote. Past honors include AARP Oklahoma Indian Elder Honors, Muscogee Women's Leadership Volunteer of the Year award and American Indian Chamber of Commerce’s Chapter Member of the Year award.

Andrus Award Honoree of Distinction - Gus Pekara
Gus Pekara is a Leadership Oklahoma City Class 12 graduate and proudly serves the organization in multiple roles. He is currently developing a new program designed to connect retired and semi-retired individuals with local nonprofit organizations to enable the organizations to benefit from their talent, skills and experience. Past roles include alumni board president, Youth Leadership Exchange chair and co-chair, Leadership Skills co-chair and program planning committee member. Pekara also volunteers for NewView, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for blind or visually impaired people and assists veterans during outings and social events. Pekara is also an active member of Rotary Club 22, one of the country's largest rotary clubs.  

Andrus Award Honoree of Distinction - Billie Ragan
Billie Ragan's volunteerism has spanned decades, including 10,000 hours of service at the Alliance Health hospital gift shop. She also donates her time at the food bank, delivers food to those in need, provides and volunteers at her church. Ragan is described as a kind, quiet person with a big heart and contagious smile. When she sees a need in her community, Ragan takes action. She continues to volunteer into her 80s and, through her volunteerism, continues to enhance the lives of Oklahoma residents.

In addition to the Andrus award and Andrus awards of distinction presented during the virtual ceremony, AARP Oklahoma honored longtime volunteer Mary Overall with the AARP Legacy Award for her dedication and invaluable contributions to society.

AARP Oklahoma also recognized Johanna Graham as the AARP Tax-Aide Volunteer of the Year. John Palinsky was recognized as the AARP Driver Safety Volunteer of the Year.

Steve Banker, Tracy Gazaway, Cynthia Poston and Eugina Walker were recognized for their work with the AARP Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps older job seekers gain employment with local nonprofit organizations.

The Pittsburg County chapter and Northeast Oklahoma City chapter also received Chapter Excellence awards.

During the virtual celebration, AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl praised retiring board members JoeAnn Vermillion, Wayne Blackmon, Mary Overall and Tewanna Edwards for their seven years of board service. “Their leadership has been a guiding force, and I am so proud to call them colleagues as well as friends,” Voskhul said.

Joe Ann Vermillion

AARP OK Honors Volunteer State President Joe Vermillion

Executive Council member Mary Overall

AARP OK Honors Executive Council member Mary Overall

Executive Council member Tewanna Edwards

AARP OK Honors Executive Council member Tewanna Edwards

Executive Council member Wayne Blackmon

AARP Oklahoma Honors Executive Council member Wayne Blackmon

“Throughout this pandemic, AARP and Oklahoma volunteers have continued to rise to the occasion to help Oklahomans live their best lives,” Voskuhl said. “When community challenges arise, these everyday innovators create impactful and creative solutions so that others may live with dignity and purpose and fulfill their goals and dreams.” 

This story is provided by AARP Oklahoma. Visit the AARP Oklahoma page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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