Distinguished Awards and Recipients  

Wilde About Humor Award 

The Wilde About Humor Award is granted annually for our professional association to recognize a company, organization, or system that enthusiastically demonstrates the utilization of applied and/or therapeutic humor in the world of business. This utilization may come via any or all of the following: Leadership, Marketing, Advertising, Customer Service, and/or Corporate Culture. Humor that decreases stress, sparks creativity, builds self-esteem, strengthens productivity, builds relationship and rapport, fosters a sense of inclusiveness, makes employees and staff feel good about themselves!

2017 Recipient: Kathy Velasco

kathy VelascoKathy Velasco first became aware of AATH when she started hanging around with Mary Kay Morrison some years back. It was quickly obvious that she was involved with some kind of “happy people.” Fast forward to 2014, and Mary Kay started talking to Kathy about whether her company, V2 Marketing Communications, might be interested in serving as the AATH office manager. Suddenly these “happy people” became very serious – I mean, really – have you met Gurinder?

Kathy and the staff at V2 now have the privilege to work with this important association on a daily basis – processing membership renewals, paying the bills, promoting the conference, designing the newsletters – whatever needs doing. And, they do it with a smile. Sometimes a joke. But not usually a guffaw. They are, after all, serious business managers.

2015 Recipient: Cancer Treatment Centers of America

We congratulate Cancer Treatment Centers of America as the esteemed recipient of the 2015 AATH Wilde About Humor Award. CTCA has made a strong impression with its groundbreaking approach to integrating therapeutic laughter exercises into the Mind-Body Medicine Program for treating cancer. A longtime supporter of AATH’s mission to promote healthy humor and a major sponsor of our international Humor Academy program, CTCA is a generous and forward-thinking company with which we are proud to be aligned.

2011 Recipient:  Red Robin Restaurants
AATH thus acknowledges our appreciation for the fact that one of their proudly declared corporate values is: Fun. From their company statement: “Fun infuses everything we do. It's a bit rebellious for a big company to admit, but fun is what keeps us vibrant, fresh and always willing to seek out and learn new things.”

AATH also wishes to honor Red Robin's expressed values of “respect for our fellow team members [employees] and celebrating the individuality of each and every guest,” and their serious and effective efforts to reduce their environmental impact - truly a challenge for any large food service-oriented company. At Red Robin's restaurants, the wait staff wear the company's fundamental values of “Honor, Integrity, Knowledge and Fun” declared on their shirtsleeves. Another admirable program is their “Unbridled Acts®” where employees are encouraged to perform random (and deliberate) acts of kindness and charity directed to make a contribution to the community. AATH members who have visited the company's 400 restaurants praise the fact that at Red Robin they “walk their talk” and make every effort to assure that every guest has an experience filled with humor, laughter, playfulness… and of course, Fun.

2010 Recipients: 

  • First Place: Kaiser Permanente
  • First Runner-up: Poarch Creek Indian Health Dept.
  • Second Runner-up: rL Solution

Background on the Wilde About Humor Award

Larry Wilde

The award is named for television actor, motivational speaker, and best-selling author Larry Wilde. He is recognized as one of the nation's leading authorities on ways to improve life with laughter. As a stand-up comedian for over 30 years, Larry has appeared in major nightclubs, Las Vegas showrooms, and at concerts around the U.S. A partial list of the performers with whom he has shared the bill include Debbie Reynolds, Ann-Margret, Rosemary Clooney, Jack Jones, Andy Williams, Vikki Carr, Pat Boone, Wayne Newton, Sonny & Cher, McGuire Sisters and Gordon McCrae, among others. His television credits include several appearances on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Sanford & Son, Rhoda, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and a host of other sit-coms.Larry is also the author of 53 published books of humor. With sales of over 12 million copies, The New York Times calls him "America's Best-Selling Humorist." Larry is in great demand as a motivational speaker and appears nationwide for Fortune 500 companies, associations, and healthcare professionals.

Please submit the company's name and a brief description of why they are deserving of this award to info@aath.org.  Nominations may also include support materials such as print (ads, collateral, etc.) and electronic examples (CD, DVD) that convey the essence of the nominee's utilization of applied and/or therapeutic humor* in the world of business.  Mail support materials to the AATH office at 220 East State St., FL G, Rockford, IL 61104  c/o AATH Awards.

Esther Hyatt Spirit of AATH Award

2018 Recipient: Don Baird

Don BairdDon Baird brings his knowledge of psychology and love of humor to every endeavor, from speaking and writing on humor and coping to teaching graduate students in clinical psychology.  Don has given presentations on humor nationally and internationally, from Chicago to Montreal to Osaka. He is a former AATH board member who has presented memorial tributes at our conferences with Bobbe Lyon for over a decade.


2017 Recipient: Sporty King 

Sporty KingFor over 2 decades Sporty King has been creatively inspiring people to become better leaders, using his original poetry and penchant for positive words. He charismatically incorporates his infectious laugh, and food for thought to help people keep the pieces of the puzzle powerful & positive when positive doesn't seem like an option... and feel good, as the key to getting the most out of their personal and professional lives. He calls it The Top Line… (How I Feel Affects Other People) and cites that without it, there is no bottom line success, because how people feel about themselves affects their ability to lead. He has been an AATH member since 2009, immediately joining after being a Conference Keynote and Breakout session speaker in 2008. He has served as Board Secretary and Conference Chair; and received his CHP at the April 2017 conference.

Background on the Esther Hyatt "Spirit of AATH" Award

esther hyattThe Esther Hyatt "Spirit of AATH" Award was created to honor those like Esther, who actively demonstrates good humor, grace, verve and a spirit of determination in the face of life’s many challenges.”

Ester Hyatt attended her first AATH conference in 2008. Although dealing with severe pain, she found relief with the laughter and joy experiences with her AATH friends. Her ability to laugh through the many challenges in life, and her dedication to AATH led to the creation of the Spirit of AATH Award. Esther was the first recipient of this Spirit of AATH Award given in 2011 at the AATH Orlando conference. Before failing health curtailed her travels, Esther also attended our annual conferences in Chicago and San Diego. Esther Hyatt passed away peacefully in the early morning og October 6, 2015. Her estate bequeathed a generous gift for AATH that will be used for future scholarships. Her friends in AATH are forever grateful for the shared laughter and joy that Esther shared with AATH. The Esther Hyatt "Spirit of AATH" Award was created to honor those like Esther, who actively demonstrates good humor, grace, verve and a spirit of determination in the face of life’s many challenges.”

Doily Lama Leadership Award 

2018 Recipient: Chip Lutz

Chip Lutz

Chip Lutz works with leaders who want to lead better, get more done, and leave a legacy. A retired Naval Officer, under his command as Commanding Officer of two different Naval facilities, both his teams received national recognition for setting new standards of service while maintaining high morale and high retention among team members. He also knows about meeting critical objectives during stressful conditions – having served as the Director of Security for Naval District Washington, DC during September 11th, 2001 – where he was responsible for the safety and security of 25 thousand people on 6 different Naval installations in the National Capital Region. Currently, Chip is the President of Unconventional Leadership and is also the Past President of AATH and the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Speaker’s Association.

About the Award:  
This award is in honor of Ruth Wiltz, mother of Mary Kay Morrison. Ruth continued to crochet even after developing Alzheimer's disease. Her creations were named Doily Lamas by the AATH family and sold as a fundraiser at the AATH Conference in 2015.

Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement

2018 Recipient: Linnea Heintz

linnea heintzLinnea Heintz - I am the Disability Services Director for Absolute Pediatric Therapy in Bentonville, AR, where I oversee all Developmental therapy and develop Individualized Family Service Plans for children in the Early Head Start Program. I also coordinate the Occupational, Physical, Speech, Developmental and Mental Health Therapists that serve our pediatric clientele, and serve as Corporate Compliance and Licensing Manager for New Beginning Children’s Homes. The last several years I have conducted numerous studies revolving around the utilization of laughter and its effect on society. I aim to pioneer change one laugh at a time. I look forward to the AATH conference every year as it is a way to rejuvenate my passion and strengthen my resolve. I laugh when no one else will.

About the Award: Created to recognize those who have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of the many roles humor plays in our lives. Because of the very nature of the subject, it is difficult sometimes for the researcher to be taken seriously, and therefore, to get adequate funding and support. It is hoped that this award will help give the individual recipients, as well as the field of Humor studies the recognition they so richly deserve.

1989 Recipient: Dr. Lee Berk
altDr. Lee Berk has a strong background in the field of psychoneuroimmunology. He is a pioneer medical researcher and recognized for his studies on positive lifestyle behaviors (eustress) with humor associated mirthful/laughter and the initial research with endorphins and immune modulation with exercise. He has done research on music, religion and spirituality, and anticipatory perception with their effects on stress hormones, neuroendocrine and immunomodulation --- since the early 1980’s. Dr. Berk’s research examines the positive emotions and their biochemical/physiological effects to the whole-person through the field of psychoneuroimmunology. He is currently the Director of the Clinical Molecular Research Laboratory in the School of Allied Health Professions, Associate Director of the Cardiovascular and Physical Fitness Lab., Associate Professor in the School of Allied Health Professions, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Human Anatomy, School of Medicine and Faculty in Graduate Studies at Loma Linda University, California.

1988 Recipient: Dr. Avner Ziv
altDr. Ziv was a widely published author, the founder of the International Conference on Jewish Humor, and a visionary. He was a Professor of Educational Psychology at Tel Aviv University in Israel and was a major early contributor to humor studies. He passed away on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at the age of 82.
Dr. Ziv’s dream was to build a center for humor research in a university setting, which would have a collection of humor books, articles, papers and dissertations on humor, all to help facilitate the productive, therapeutic use of humor.
His acceptance speech centered around the story of how he became interested in researching humor. During one of the many wars Israel has had, a team of researchers was called upon to study the effects of the stress on the children at various Kibbutzim. Ziv was one of the researchers.
After all the psychological tests had been administered and calculated, they found that two of the Kibbutzim had children who were experiencing far less stress than any of the others, even though the number of bombings near them was the same. Upon investigation, they found that at both sites the children clung to an older child (approximately 13-14 years old), and that in each case, the so-called “magnet child” had a quality completely overlooked by the researchers: a sense of humor. “He makes me laugh—even when the bombs are dropping,” one girl told Ziv.

“I started to study the values of humor during stress because of the war. But now the war is over, and I keep studying it – I just can’t stop myself,” he told the audience.
September 24, 1988, Toronto, Canada, 1st Annual Meeting of AATH held concurrently with the Laughter & Play Conference

2018 Heart and Soul Award Recipient: Bobbe Lyon

Bobbe LyonThe year was 1989 when a brochure arrived in the mail announcing a conference on the Positive Power of Humor and Creativity and the lineup was impressive. Why not go? So off I went and it changed my life forever. Allison Crane approached me at that conference and told me she was also starting a humor organization called The American Association of Therapeutic. And so my association with AATH began.

I went on to become a member of the AATH Executive Board and co-chaired three conferences with a lovely, zany group of new AATH friends. The nicest job I’ve had recently has been to co-present the memorial for the funny folks who are no longer with us. I am honored and touched by the Heart & Soul award and I thank you. The biggest bonus, for me, as a member of AATH has been the friends I’ve met. Don will be accepting this award for me since health issues have kept me home.

About the Award

This recipient honors a person who has demonstrated heartfelt empathy and support towards members of the AATH family and a deep commitment to the AATH mission.


2018 Red Nose Award Recipient: Debra Joy Hart

Deb HartDebra Joy Hart - Mother Teresa said, "Peace begins with a smile." I said," I can do that. I can create peace, one red nose at a time." In 2011, my 1000 Red Noses(TM) Project was born. I was taught to give back to my community either of my time, talent or treasure. Being a minister, nurse, clown, art teacher, certified laughter leader, death educator, mom, wife and (best of all) Bubbe, allows me to give to others in a variety of ways. This is the Universe's way of keep me from being bored AND out of jail! How does it get any better than this?

 About the Award

This recognition is given to recognize extraordinary volunteer service to the AATH mission to study, practice and support healthy humor.


2018 Humor Academy - Making a Difference Award Recipient: Jill Knox, CHP  

Jill KnoxJill Knox, CHP is a speaker and humorist who has, as long as she can remember, incorporated humor in daily living and as a survival tool. As an educator, her use of humor in the classroom led her to a career as a speaker and founder of The Funnyside, providing workshops and keynotes to colleges, school districts, health centers, and women’s groups emphasizing the power of humor at work, play, and daily living. Jill is a passionate believer in life-long learning and in recent years has enjoyed, but not yet “mastered” playing Steel Pan, and Ukulele. She is currently continuing her path to enlightenment as a student of The National Peace Academy in order to earn a Peace Building/Peace Learning Certificate, knowing that humor and laughter are the gateways to a peaceful world.

About the Award

This recipient is a person who has demonstrated ceaseless passion and commitment for applied humor in teaching and/or participating in the Humor Academy.


2018 AATH Notable Newbie Award Recipient: Jennifer Keith 

jennifer keithJennifer Keith - I’m a 19-year veteran high school English teacher/turned technology coordinator/turned doctoral student in Educational Leadership, retired at the end of last school year to write online curriculum from home. Overcoming the hardships of losing my sister to a car accident, and recently losing my mother to a stroke, myself at times in work and other vices, humor has and will always be my saving grace. The Humor Academy Level 2 is on my horizon, as well as serving as Chairman of the 2019 AATH Conference. I plan to use this experience to jump start the next season of my career and life as I promote humor, creativity and play in education. We have to bring the fun back to education and kids.

About the Award

Given to a person who has exhibited leadership skills and volunteerism within the first 3 years of membership in AATH.


2018 Book Award Recipients: Allen Klein 

allen kleinAllen Klein - Secrets Kids Know; That Adults Oughta Learn

Through his books and his presentations, Klein shows people worldwide how to use humor to deal with everything from traffic jams to tragedies. He is a best-selling author, former president of the AATH board and an award-winning professional speaker. His honors include an AATH’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association, and a Toastmaster’s Communication and Leadership Award. In 2007, Hunter College, The City University of New York, inducted him into their Hall of Fame. Klein is also a best-selling author of 26 books including, The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, You Can’t Ruin My Day, and now, Secrets Kids Know…That Adults Oughta Learn.

About the Award

This award is given to a member of AATH who has contributed an outstanding new book that illustrates the use of humor in theory or practice. 


2018 CHP Valedictorian: Cynthia Keeler  

Cynthia KeelerCynthia Keeler. - As a Mental Health Counselor and the CEO of the Art of Counseling/Science of Well-Being, Cynthia creates, produces and facilitates workshops, seminars and retreats addressing Self-Care. Along with her additional trainings in Arts in Medicine, Professional Clowning and being a Certified Laughter Leader, she embraces the philosophy of person-centered counseling through the use of expressive arts, play and laughter for health and well-being. Cynthia is currently an Adult Grief Facilitator at New Hope for Kids in Maitland, Florida as well as the leader of a Therapeutic Drum Program, DRUMBEAT, at the Florida School for Holistic Living. She was also the Humor Academy Advisor for Levels 1&2 and mentor to her “Humor Buddies.”