Child at Little Buckeye Children's Museum

A child plays with educational toys at the Little Buckeye Children's Museum in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD — The Ohio Travel Association (OTA) produces the RUBY Awards for one reason and one reason only – to provide their members with the opportunity to showcase their value to their communities.

In 2020, the OTA awards team threw out the drawing board, reshaped the awards program to fit the times and demonstrate the importance and impact of Ohio’s travel industry during this time. And two local entries won awards: Little Buckeye Children’s Museum and Destination Mansfield-Richland County.

“Excellence resides in Richland County,” says Lee Tasseff, Destination Mansfield – Richland County President. “And every day that excellence is leveraged into positive attention, an influx of money to the area, and for its residents, a better quality of life.

“There are for more local heroes…businesses, non-profits and individuals…who strived to make life better for their fellow residents. We salute every one of them and are proud to call Richland County home! We just happened to be fortunate enough to have an industry awards program to give us the opportunity for recognition.”

There were two categories for this year’s RUBY competition: Spirit of Community, and Spirit of Innovation. Awards were given in each category on a state level and then on six regional levels. Little Buckeye Children’s Museum won a Statewide “Spirit of Community” RUBY Award for the Buckeye Bag Program, one of only two statewide awards.

Destination Mansfield - Richland County won a “Spirit of Innovation” RUBY Award (for Northeast Ohio) for the campaign “Pivoting Priorities – Filling the Gaps.” Destination Mansfield also received an Award of Excellence for their Spirit of Community entry “Community Over Covid.”

Destination Mansfield’s “Filling the Gaps” campaign highlighted a shift in focus from bringing visitors from outside Richland County, to supporting our local neighbors. As the needs of our community changed, Destination Mansfield utilized email lists, blog posts, social media channels, and good old fashioned leg-work to stay forward-focused and solution-minded in making social distancing in 2020 feel a little less isolating. Above all, it was their ability to utilize their marketing skills to show support for local businesses by connecting locals with restaurants through initiatives like take-out and delivery options amongst others.

Special thanks goes out to economic development partners, Richland Area Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development and Downtown Mansfield, Inc. for collaborating on getting the word out to as many residents and businesses as possible.

The Little Buckeye Children’s Museum Buckeye Bags were distributed by North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) to children from needy families in Richland County. The bags contained items for a variety of fun and educational activities that children can do at home, along with an activity guide which offered detailed instructions on specific activities that use the items in the bag and how those activities are beneficial to children.

Some examples of the items included are bubbles, frisbee, ball, jump rope, coloring book and more! Community partners who made the Buckeye Bags possible include the Richland County Foundation, Mansfield Richland County Public Library, Park National Bank, Richland Carrousel Park and North End Community Improvement Collaborative.

“We give Fred Boll, Suzanna Hammond and their staff at Little Buckeye Children’s Museum a huge “thumbs up” for doing such a noble project (and doing it well) while the museum was shut down and having no way to bring in any income. It was a tremendous sacrifice!” added Tasseff. “The community should be very proud to have such an organization like Little Buckeye not only compete, but beat larger Ohio attractions,”

Der Dutchman in Bellville was also included in the efforts of their corporate office, Dutch Hospitality Group which won a regional RUBY Award. Their Spirit of Community submission focused on serving the community and employees.

The Ohio Travel Association RUBY Awards recognize excellence in Ohio’s travel industry for efforts in advertising, marketing and public relations. RUBY Award stands for Recognizing Uncommon Brilliance Yearly (RUBY) Award and honors those who have found the most innovative ways to market their destination, experiences, or services. The awards are sponsored by Ohio Magazine.

The Ohio Travel Association is the non-profit association representing attractions, destination marketing organizations, hotels, museums, suppliers, restaurants, campgrounds and other businesses who make up Ohio’s $48 billion travel industry. For more information about the Ohio Travel Association and how to get involved with others in the travel industry, visit

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