Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Rick Jensen of Jensen Motors, one of the sponsors of the New Ulm Athena Awards, presents the award to Chris Carmichael at the Athena Awards banquet Thursday at the Holiday Inn in New Ulm.


May 2, 2008

By KEVIN SWEENEY Journal Editor

NEW ULM — The 2008 Athena Award winner for New Ulm is a woman of courage, creativity and passion about her art, according to those who honored Christine Carmichael at the annual Athena Award luncheon Thursday.

Friends and colleagues gathered at the Holiday Inn New Ulm for the event. Mayor Joel Albrecht said Carmichael is different from people who say, “‘Someone should do this,’ or ‘The city should do that.’ Where she stands out is she goes ahead and does it,” said Albrecht. He described how Carmichael grabbed hold of the idea of a historic preservation commission for New Ulm, and helped rewrite a boilerplate ordinance from the state to fit the city’s needs. When he brought the proposed ordinance to the New Ulm City Council, said Albrecht, it ran into opposition. It would take away the rights of property owners, or this portion was too restrictive. Carmichael helped soften it a couple of times, but finally, “She drew a line in the sand,” said Albrecht. “She said, ‘If we have to dilute this any more, there’s no point in having an ordinance.’ When I told that to the council, they said, ‘She’s really serious, isn’t she!’ And she was!” Albrecht said Carmichael, who served several years on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission “brought the charm, the grace and all the qualities she possesses to the commission. She was the right person at the right time. Thank you, from New Ulm and for future generations.”

Megan Rolloff, who works with Carmichael at Interior Motives, said Carmichael is a “giving person. The first thing she gave me was a job.” Carmichael also shared her knowledge and experience, helping Rolloff to discover a career she loves. “And she’s given me her friendship. She’s a great listener when you need an ear, and a great shoulder when you need support,” Rolloff said.

Dr. Ann Vogel said Carmichael is being recognized for her talents and accomplishments, but also for her “special circumstances.” Carmichael has severe rheumatoid arthritis, but Vogel said you wouldn’t know it when you meet her. “She’s being recognized because she shows to everybody, female and male, that you can carry on and use the gifts that you’ve been endowed with and overcome unbelievable obstacles,” said Vogel. Vogel quipped that that it’s natural that Carmichael is interested in restoration — “She IS a restoration.”

Carmichael is the proof of the saying that “the only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.”

Lynn Heuchert, Carmichael’s partner in Interior Motives, said she and Carmichael share a love of design, and she was happy when Carmichael closed her own design shop and came to work with her. “She is a kind soul, and the most deserving recipient of this award there can possibly be.”

A congratulatory letter was also read from the “Historic Worthington” organization, which hired Carmichael to design the interior for the restoration of the George Draper Dayton House in Worthington.

When Carmichael had a chance to speak, she talked about the “gift of choices” we have in our lives, and thanked those who helped her make her choices. She thanked her father for his dual Christmas gifts each year — a piece of jewelry and tools, with the encouragement that she could be whatever she wanted to be. She thanked her mother, and the close family and friends who supported her in her work, enabling her to make choices and tackle projects, even when she had to be carried up and down stairs in her wheelchair and driven around the state. She thanked her clients. “They have become the most special to me,” she said. “They are what get me out of bed every morning, the change to make a difference in the quality of life for someone.” She thanked her co-workers who have stood behind her through her challenges, and her sister Charis Carmichael Braun, who encouraged and forced her to write articles for design magazines when she was too crippled by her arthritis to work. She thanked those who organized a fund-raiser a few years ago to help with medical expenses, allowing her to avoid declaring bankruptcy and live on Social Security disability benefits, to keep having choices. “And I want to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, who gives me the opportunity to make the greatest choice each day, to love Him,” she said.

This article first appeared on the New Ulm Journal's website and print edition:
Sweeney, Kevin. "Courage, Compassion, Passion for Art, Carmichael honored with Athena Award." The Journal. 2 May 2008: Web. 15 August 2015.