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Originally published Friday, January 2, 2009 at 2:41 PM

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Best of Puget Sound, 2008: unsung heroes and uncommon genius

The annual Best of Puget Sound list recognizes the people and organizations that added to the worth of the place where we live.

THIS year's annual list of the Best of Puget Sound recognizes individuals and organizations that have added to the worth of the place where we live. Past honorees have included some of the best citizens of our region. That's true this year, too.

Millionair Club. This unusual meeting hall and catalyst is a hidden gem in Seattle. One of the many activities of the club is to distribute food to the homeless and be a meeting ground for disparate peoples. In September, the Millionair Club hosted the "Day of Dignity," which provided food and winter supplies to 600 homeless people — all sponsored by the local Muslim community. The national event, which attempted to feed 25,000 people during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, when most Muslims fast, spread to 18 American cities. Of course, Millionair Club was Seattle's centerpiece for the charitable event.

• Given the past two weeks, this list has to include the unsung weather heroes who, wherever possible, drove buses, plowed snow, sanded and salted streets and freeways, delivered mail and newspapers, towed cars out of ditches and restored power where it failed. Don't forget firefighters and law-enforcement officers, who responded to myriad accidents. No snow days or telecommuting. Bless them.

David Montgomery, a geomorphologist at the University of Washington's Department of Earth and Space Sciences and a guitarist rocking with a basement band.

Montgomery is our region's latest recipient of the "genius" grant, as the $500,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award is called. He plans to use it to delve deeper into scientific research, writing and music. Our region is all the better for bright lights like Montgomery.

• For 20 years, Mimi Siegel has steered the Bellevue-based Kindering Center, a neurodevelopmental center helping infants and children with special needs. While remaining laser-focused on the nonprofit center's mission of helping children from birth to age 3, she has helped board members build the center's role as a resource for the children's families. Siegel's passionate advocacy has not only increased the center's influence in the community but with lawmakers and other leaders.

Book-It Repertory Theater is a Seattle treasure than begins its 20th season of distinctive productions in 2009. A small, core company of actors, directors, designers and writers work with other local artists to transform great literature into great theater. Jane Jones brought the idea to Seattle, where it blossomed with co-artistic director Myra Platt. Book-It's success on stage is matched by an extraordinary outreach program that tours King County schools, reaching 70,000 students and adults.

Wing Luke Asian Museum and the Northwest African American Museum are two cultural triumphs deserving recognition.

The 42-year-old Wing Luke museum reopened earlier this year in new digs eight times the size of its old home. The new space is a dazzling arena of clever art installations and art objects paying homage to the broad umbrella of Asian culture. Wing Luke's storied presence is a major driver of revitalization of the International District.

Like Wing Luke, the Northwest African American Museum provides a cultural home to the black experience in the Northwest. First, there is the impressive art collection representing Seattle luminaries such as Jacob Lawrence and James Washington Jr. It also provides a community need: The two top floors were made into 36 apartments for moderate-income families.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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