The First Annual National Rural Assembly, sponsored by the Kellogg and Ford foundations, is now underway in Chantilly, VA. The gathering draws together 300 leaders from across the U.S. to discuss rural problems and to unify their efforts for reform.

The Assembly honored six “Rural Heroes” on Monday evening, June 25.

Max Baucus

Senator Max Baucus has served in the United States Congress representing the state of Montana since 1974, as a Representative from 1974 to 1978 and Senator since 1978. He is currently Chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Senate Agriculture Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Born and raised in Montana, Baucus attended Stanford Law School and then returned to Missoula to open a law practice. In the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, he served as both Executive Director and Committee Coordinator, working to craft one of the most farsighted state constitutions in the nation.

Bill Bynum

Bill Bynum is the Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union (ECD/HOPE). Previously, he managed community development initiatives at the North Carolina Rural Development Center and assisted with Self-Help, a pioneer in the development banking industry. Bynum is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute and was named the 2002 Ernst & Young National Supporter of Entrepreneurship. He chairs and serves on numerous boards, including the President’s Community Development Advisory Board, AmSouth Bank Community Development Corporation, the North Carolina Minority Support Center, and Partners for the Common Good.

Forrest Calico

Dr. Forrest Calico of Stanford, Kentucky, has been a leader in the field of rural health as a clinician, an educator, a scholar, and an administrator. He is currently a Senior Advisor on Quality at the National Rural Health Association. He served the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy as Health Systems Advisor and was President of Appalachian Regional Healthcare from 1993 to 1999. Calico began his medical career as a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. In his family practice and his commitment to rural health he has written extensively and made presentations throughout the U.S. In addition to his M.D. degree, Calico holds a Masters in Public Health from Harvard.

Eloise Cobell

Eloise Cobell is the Executive Director of the Native American Community Development Corporation, a non-profit affiliate of the Native American Bank. She also served as Chairperson for the Blackfeet National Bank and was instrumental in the formation of the Blackfeet Reservation Development Fund, Inc. In addition to operating a working ranch with her husband, she is active in local agricultural and environmental issues, serving as a Trustee for the Nature Conservancy in Montana. Cobell is the recipient of the 2002 “Women Who Make a Difference” award at the International Women’s Forum and a 1997 “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Sharon B. King

Sharon B. King is President of the F.B. Heron Foundation, which invests in wealth-creation strategies for low-income people and their communities. She serves on the boards of the B. Altman Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and BoardSource and has also been a trustee of the Council on Foundations and the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers. Throughout her career in philanthropy, King has advised the Rockefeller Family Office. She served the Edward W. Hazen Foundation as president, and has been a program officer at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

Al Smith

Al Smith came to Kentucky in 1958 to edit the Russellville News-Democrat — later part of a chain of weekly newspapers he led until 1985. A lifelong journalist, Smith created Comment on Kentucky for Kentucky Educational Television in 1974. Smith still hosts the weekly program, bringing together a panel of reporters to discuss the state’s latest political, educational, and business news. Smith has chaired and been active in many civic organizations including the Governor’s Council on Educational Reform, the Kentucky Arts Commission, the Kentucky Oral History Commission, and the Kentucky Press Association. Under the Carter and Reagan administrations (1980-82), he was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Smith was the driving force in founding the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky in 2001.

Listen to Howard Berkes’s report from the Assembly, about rural voters and their possible impact on the 2008 presidential election.

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