Miss USA 1976, Barbara Burwell Receives the 2016 Ellis Island Medal of Honor

10 May

Philanthropist and 1976 Miss USA Winner, Barbara Burwell, was among the ninety outstanding Americans who received the 2016 Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations-NECO on Saturday, May 7th.

2016 marks the Ellis Island Medal of Honor’s 30th Anniversary. The ceremony featured a significant military presence and patriotic performers as well as notable speakers, and was followed by a black-tie Gala Dinner in Ellis Island’s historic Great Hall.

Upon completing her Miss USA 1976 reign, Barbara Burwell graduated from St. Olaf College with degrees in Speech Communications, American Studies and Political science, and pursued a career in public relations. She has since committed herself to philanthropy and charitable efforts in her hometown. She currently serves on the boards of Breck School, Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota History Center, University of Denver Parent Council, Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts and the Children’s Theater. She is also former president of the American Lung Association.

Barbara Peterson Burwell

Barbara has been recognized for her charitable efforts and for her leadership as one of America’s Outstanding Women of Achievement, the American Lung Association’s Volunteer of the Year, and one of University of Minnesota’s 25 most Distinguished Women. She also continuously donates to educational and charitable organizations through the Rodney and Barbara Burwell Family Foundation. Ms. Burwell resides in the Minneapolis area with her three sons, Rodney, Blake and Michael.

“I am delighted to accept the Ellis Island Medal of Honor this year,” said Barbara Burwell. “Ellis Island reminds us that we are a nation of people that have welcomed newcomers for many years. I greatly appreciate the honor symbolized by the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and am happy to be a part of this community united by NECO.”

NECO is the sponsor of the Ellis Island Medals of Honor which are presented annually to American citizens, both native born and naturalized, who have distinguished themselves within their own ethnic groups while exemplifying the values of the American way of life. The Ellis Island Medals of Honor embody the spirit of America in their celebration of patriotism, tolerance, brotherhood and diversity. The Medal recognizes individuals who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity; all while maintaining the traditions of their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America. Since the Medal was founded in 1986, we have honored such distinguished and diverse Americans including: six Presidents of the United States; Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel, Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Hon. Hillary Clinton, Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Rosa Parks, Yue-Sai Kan, Mike Wallace and Mia Farrow, all who have distinguished themselves through their significant contributions to this country.

The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations – NECO- was created on the conviction of its founders that the diversity of the American people is what makes this nation great. Its mission is to honor and preserve this diversity and to foster tolerance, respect and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Additionally, NECO continues its commitment to the restoration and maintenance of Ellis Island, a living tribute to the courage and hope of all immigrants.

Chairman of NECO Nasser J. Kazeminy stated, “Today, there is so much negative rhetoric about immigration. We forget that the great majority of our citizens celebrate a second heritage in addition to being Americans. I believe that anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America must also take on the responsibilities of citizenship. Those responsibilities include being informed, being engaged and voting for our leaders. This is the small price we pay for such enormous freedom. When we talk about immigration, let’s not forget the men and women who we have honored who are highly-skilled workers, college graduates, and entrepreneurs and who contribute so much to our society and our economy. America is a nation of immigrants and it is what makes us great.”

The Ellis Island Medal of Honor ranks among the nation’s most prestigious awards. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have officially recognized the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, and each year the recipients are listed in the Congressional Record.


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