Distinguished Awards and Recipients

2017 Wilde About Humor Award 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.

Background on the Wilde About Humor Award

Larry Wilde

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!

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.


2017 Esther Hyatt Spirit of AATH Award 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.”

2017 Doily Lama Leadership Award Recipient: Jill Knox

jill knoxJill Knox is the recent Past President of AATH and the 2013 San Diego conference chair. She has been a Humor Academy Advisor and is a CHP Graduate.

During her years as an educator, she was recognized for her use of humor in the classroom in order to facilitate a positive educational experience (for student and teachers). This led to her establishing The Funnyside, facilitating workshops and providing keynote presentations to educators in school districts, colleges, and in the field of health.

She is a Certified Laughter Leader with the World Laughter Tour and a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader.

 Jill is currently involved as a volunteer at the Muramid Museum and it's Twelve Mile Mural Project in Oceanside, Ca. where she is helping to promote a culture of peace both locally and globally through the arts.
She passionately believes that therapeutic humor, laughter, and play have an important role in healing, forging bonds, and uniting communities, on the path to a more peaceful world.

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.

2017 Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement: Gurinder Bains, MD, PhD

gurinder bainsGurinder Bains is an Assistant Professor and Primary Research Coordinator for the School of Allied Health at Loma Linda University. He has been a co-author in over 30 publications. He received his PhD from Loma Linda University, MD from Ross University Medical School, and a BSC in Finance from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has been involved in research that includes humor/laughter, inflammation, high intensity exercise and weight loss, sleep, blood flow, and back pain. His PhD dissertation focused on how humor and laughter can enhance short term memory in the elderly. Dr. Bains has presented at numerous scientific meetings and his research has gained worldwide media attention such as ABC News Worldwide, CNN, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Men's Journal, FOX News, and Huffington Post to name a few.

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 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 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


2017 Heart and Soul Award Recipient: Lenny Dave 

Lenny DaveNationally recognized comedy historian, humorist and two-time “Speaker of the Year” nominee Lenny Dave is a proud AATH Past President (2007-09). Even though Lenny is not a doctor, he has been known to perform successful surgery on the human spirit!

In 2014, Lenny was selected as the featured speaker… and the only speaker… to perform in the inaugural season of the “Red Skelton Entertainment Series.” This took place in Red’s hometown of Vincennes, Indiana, in conjunction with the opening of a brand new museum dedicated to Red Skelton’s legacy of laughter. And, it was Lenny who spear-headed the AATH effort to have our 2014 Annual Conference held at that museum and in that beautiful Red Skelton Theater.

For nearly 30 years, Lenny has been speaking nationally, presenting a fun and informative program that spotlights all of our favorite laugh-makers of the past 100 years… from Vaudeville, Broadway, Motion Pictures and Radio to Night Clubs, Record Albums and Television… recalling so many memories of a time when the best comedy was funny and clean. Earlier this month, Lenny completed a 10-week tour of 45 shows across the state of Florida. And, as always, each one began with a tip-of-the-cap to AATH and its mission. Upon receiving this award, Lenny summarizes it all as follows…“Quite simply, I am a more compassionate human being and a better-informed speaker on the topic of Healthy Humor & Laughter because of AATH. To all of my AATH friends and colleagues, thank you!”

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.


2017 Red Nose Award Recipient: Linda MacNeal  

Linda MacNealLinda MacNeal's whereabouts before she arrived at AATH’s welcoming doorstep is a tale of woe and sorrow. She forlornly filled her time with… remarkable business success, authoring several corporate cash management books and running her own NYC-based Computer Training Company. Then Ta-Dah! In 2002 she found Steve Wilson’s Laughter Tour Training and then in 2006 she found her tribe at AATH and has been learning, practicing and teaching humor ever since.

Linda began volunteering at AATH during her first conference and by the second year, was already managing the bookstore and author activities. She was one of the first Humor Academy Mentors and then graduated in the first Humor Academy Certified Humor Professional class. Linda has served the Board of Directors as Secretary. Not for nothin’ of course, she demands payment in dark chocolate for all her endeavors.

 About the Award

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


2017 Humor Academy - Making a Difference Award Recipient: Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE, CHP  

Karyn BuxmanKaryn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE, CHP is an international speaker, successful author, and neurohumorist (she lives at the intersection of humor and the brain). Karyn joined AATH as a mere child and has been an active member for almost 30 years. She’s served on every board position with the exception of Treasurer (which is why we are still financially solvent!). Karyn’s also served as editor for the Humor Connection, dozens of volunteer positions and is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. She is a co-founder of the Humor Academy, a graduate of the academy (Certified Humor Professional) and an advisor for the Level 3 Leadership Program. Whew—Karyn Buxman is serious about humor!

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.


2017 AATH Notable Newbie Award Recipient: Debbie Derflinger  

Debbie DerflingerDebbie Derflinger was born with a smile on her face and the doctor tried to tell her mother it was “just gas,” but her mother believed that she was born to laugh. Her parents instilled a good sense of humor into their smiling baby that would become invaluable in years to come. Debbie values faith, family, and country. She enjoys laughing with family and friends. Through her 30 year career as a nurse she learned an important life lesson that self-care is critical to a nurse’s survival and ability to care for others. Becoming a Certified Laughter Leader rekindled hope and laughter in her life and became a tool for self-care that was so comforting and healing to the soul that words cannot describe. One of her Laughter Missions is to touch as many lives with laughter as she can. Another is to bring the “humerus” back to healthcare as a self-care tool for staff, patients, and families. Being awarded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) “Medical Classroom” scholarship has been a great honor and privilege. Her level 2 Humor Academy project titled “Let’s Find the ‘Humerus’ in Healthcare,” is a small pilot study of the effects of humor on overall well-being and the ability to create a safe, fun, and healing environment in healthcare.  Debbie had the privilege of touring CTCA at both the Arizona and new Philadelphia Facilities. She wishes to emulate CTCA’s spirit of excellence in her own life and career. Debbie is married, has two grown children, and resides with her husband in Ohio.

About the Award

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


2017 Book Award Recipients: Kathy Laurenhue and Bron Roberts  

kathy laurenhueKathy Laurenhue. My company, Wiser Now, Inc., is a multi-media publishing and training entity that focuses primarily on wellbeing in aging, with some products also suitable to a younger audience. My two most recent books are What’s Left? Holidays and Seasons, which is a word game puzzle book, and Creating Delight – Connecting Gratitude, Humor, and Play for all Ages, written with the wonderful Bron Roberts’ assistance. I also produce hundreds of trivia quizzes, word games and discussion topics, lead webinars, write online courses, and consult with long-term care companies on programming and staff training. My reputation is for building both brain connections and human connections by using a lighthearted touch and offbeat information that keeps curiosity alive. Not surprisingly then, AATH informs everything I do! It’s been a great pleasure to serve in multiple AATH leadership roles, and I count dozens of members among the people I value most in the world.

Bron RobertsBron Roberts. For over 15 years I’ve had the fun of sharing simple strategies for reducing stress, building resilience and increasing productivity with individuals, communities and corporations around Australia.  Known by my clients as ‘the Laughter Lady’ I take clients on fun filled roller coaster rides of discovery as they experience the simple science of the brain /body - mind /muscle connection.  In 2016, during her extended stay In Australia, Kathy Laurenhue invited me to assist with her new program - Creating Delight – Connecting Gratitude, Humor, and Play for all Ages.  The program is outlined in Kathy’s new book by the same name to which I am honoured to be listed as a contributing author.  While my involvement with AATH has been little more than attending the annual conferences (this year will mark my 10th), I happily credit AATH and the many wonderful people I’ve connected with through AATH for creating both my business and the person I am today.

About the Award

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


2017 CHP Valedictorian: Monnie Kinlaw   

Monnie KinlawMonnie Kinlaw. I am a Registered Nurse with a long career that includes occupational and agricultural health, case management and utilization review. My work is for a major hotel chain in Occupational Health/Claims. Twenty years ago, I developed a company, KK Educational Services and recently co-founded another, Entertainment CE. Both companies provide professional educational opportunities emphasizing fun and entertainment.

Humor has always been incorporated into my life and career. I was influenced by a minister, who created a Clown Outreach program and he officiated at my wedding. I have introduced “recess” and “play” into my work environments to reduce stress and improve work engagement.

I became involved in AATH and the Humor Academy in 2014 to improve the use of humor into my educational experiences. Given the unique exposure opportunities that were provided, I’ve grown both professionally and personally. Checking off a top item on my Bucket List, a speaking engagement at a large national conference, was due to my HA experience.
This award is given to a member(s) of AATH who has contributed an outstanding new book that illustrates the use of humor in theory or practice.