Frank Munger, U.S. Department of Energy reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel, received a Muddy Boot Award from the East Tennessee Economic Council during a retirement celebration on Wednesday.
Munger is retiring today (June 30) after 35 years covering DOE for the News Sentinel. Many consider him to be the best DOE reporter in the DOE complex. It’s not clear if he will be replaced. Some have said he is irreplaceable.
Among those who praised Munger’s work and “shoe-leather” journalism on Wednesday, even if DOE wasn’t always pleased with his stories, were current and former DOE and contractor officials Gerald Boyd, Sue Cange, Dave Keim, Thom Mason, Billy Stair, and Jim Alexander. They recalled humorous moments; his pocket-sized voice recorder, which he was carrying Wednesday; the occasional arguments; and his ability to translate stories about complex subjects such as the Spallation Neutron Source into language that people without scientific training could understand. They also presented Munger with mementos, including a framed collection of photos from Oak Ridge National Laboratory showing Munger at work over the years, reporting at the lab.
“I can say without reservation that you were always accurate and fair in your reporting—mostly,” said Boyd, a former DOE Oak Ridge Office manager who was unable to attend but delivered his message through a sometimes-humorous letter to Munger. “You always tried to tell all sides of each story, and we all appreciated that even when the story was hard to accept. Your studied approach to reporting on things DOE Oak Ridge always kept the important issues visible and in the forefront, forcing us to have to deal with them. I believe that made us a better operation. In particular, your in-depth articles on various Oak Ridge programs, projects, and activities were excellent tutorials for the general public and helped us explain the value of the Oak Ridge missions. We will miss that.”
Munger spoke near the end of the retirement celebration, which also included remarks from Jenny Freeman of the Oak Ridge Partnership. He followed up with a post on his blog, Atomic City Underground, on Thursday.
“Thank you for all the kind and generous words and the chance to see old colleagues and friends,” Munger said. “New ones, too. I am stunned by the outpouring of praise for my work since I announced my retirement several weeks ago. Wow. I don’t know if I’m deserving, but it feels really good to have your career validated on multiple fronts.”
The mid-year Muddy Boot Award was presented Wednesday by ETEC President Jim Campbell. The award is a symbol of Oak Ridge’s mud-filled streets during its early days, when the city was built as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. Munger joined three other well-known journalists who have received the award: Horace Wells, Dick Smyser, and Tom Hill.
ETEC presents the Muddy Boot each year to honor individuals or groups of people that have helped build the community’s economic base. The award was started in 1973 by the founders of ETEC—then the Roane Anderson Economic Council, or R-AEC—to reflect the Manhattan Project founders of Oak Ridge, who worked through adverse conditions to build the community. It has been presented to elected officials, business leaders, representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, and others. You can see a full list here.
ETEC also gave a mid-year Muddy Boot award to Barbara Ferrell this month. Ferrell owns The Ferrell Shop in Jackson Square and has been the driving force behind the successful Lavender Festival, which celebrated its 18th year this year.
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