Past Recipients

Since 2015, MCN and the McKnight Foundation have presented the Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards to individuals who have served communities across Minnesota. In partnership with the McKnight Foundation, a family foundation based in Minnesota that advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive, four Minnesotans, two from the Twin Cities metro and two from Greater Minnesota, each received $10,000 in recognition of the significant impact they have had on the state of Minnesota and its communities. 

Each of the honorees below received a cash prize from the McKnight Foundation and were recognized during a private awards luncheon at the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis and at the MCN Annual Conference. 

2018 Honorees

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Joe Day, Bemidji
Joe Day, a three-tour veteran of the Vietnam War, has spent his life working for Native communities. He is a co-founder of the Northwest Indian Community Development Center, an organization that originated as a workforce development agency. An active community member for over 40 years, Joe works to challenge workforce disparities, connect governments, remove barriers, and honor his Anishinaabe heritage. His work is for the love of his people, something he showcases every single day.
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Memoona Ghani, Maple Grove
Memoona Ghani, a Pakistani immigrant, has devoted her time and energy to dispelling the myths and negative stereotypes around Islam and the Muslim community. A business analyst by day, she creates change in the community through a number of volunteer positions, including as a certified speaker for the Islamic Resource Group, as the lead organizer for an initiative called IMPACT through the AlMaghrib Institute, as vice chair for Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, and much more. A tireless advocate for Muslim women, Memoona has a willingness to help in whatever capacity necessary.
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Carol Orban, Ely
Since arriving in Ely in the 1970s, Carol Orban has been a sustaining force in the community. For 23 years, Carol taught English at Vermillion Community College and did important work outside the classroom as well. In the early 1980s, Carol organized the Northwoods Whole Foods Co-op in Ely and has long since supported efforts to provide healthy food to everyone in the community. As an organizer of EMPOWER, she was active in supporting women’s rights and LGTB+ issues. If there was a need in Ely, often Carol helped to fill it.
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Wynfred Russell, Brooklyn Park
Wynfred Russell is a pioneer, a leader, and a visionary, dedicating his life to advocating for disenfranchised communities and advancing equity. An immigrant from Liberia, Wynfred is the founding executive director of African Career, Education, and Resource Inc., an organization addressing the resource and information gap within the newer and longtime minority communities in the northwest suburbs of the Twin Cities. In addition to his extensive work in his Minnesota community, Wynfred used his background in public health to manage the Ebola response team in southeastern Liberia and later served on a global polio eradication initiative in northern Nigeria for three years. He is a dedicated public servant and advocate.

2017 Honorees

  • Angela Edwards, Minneapolis
  • Jon Vang, St. Paul
  • Abdirizak "Zack" Mahboub, Willmar
  • Millicent Simenson, Bemidji

2016 Honorees

  • Deborah Jiang-Stein, Minneapolis
  • Koresh Lakhan, Duluth
  • Qamar Saadiq Saoud, Minneapolis
  • Dr. Arne Vainio, Cloquet

2015 Honorees

  • Tom Johnson, St. Paul
  • Wilbur Neushwander-Frink, Mankato
  • Mary Powell, Shoreview (Honorable Mention)
  • Robianne Schultz, Perham (Honorable Mention)