Baton Rouge television personality Whitney Vann has rappelled down Tiger Stadium despite a brutal fear of heights, helped pull a FedEx plane down a runway at Baton Rouge Metro Airport and walked a total of about 500 miles in walkathons — just a few of the many feats she’s performed over the years to raise money for an array of causes.
For those efforts, Vann was named the 73rd Golden Deeds award winner Wednesday, granted by the Inter-Civic Council and The Advocate for local activists and volunteers.
“It has been a privilege to be in a position to help shine a light on people and organizations in need, and I’ve felt driven to do that,” she said.
Vann was co-host of “2une-In” for 17 years before switching this month to a new show, “Weekends With Whitney,” which airs at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. Vann also has won 225 Magazine’s award for “Best Local TV Personality” since 2009.
Some of the groups she helped have worked to combat such diseases as cancer, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and diabetes. She also has worked to raise money to counsel survivors of sexual assault, fund after-school programs for youths and prevent child abuse as well as sex trafficking.
She has supported groups that fund arts and entertainment like the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, Manship Theatre and The Louisiana Film Society.
“It seemed like I was always on a board,” Vann said. “I guess I just got to be known as ‘that girl.’ Unless I had a conflict, I don’t think I ever said no.”
Vann was born and raised in Glasgow, Kentucky, and studied broadcast journalism at the University of Mississippi before earning a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. She said she then worked at five TV news jobs in seven years, which took her to Columbus and Hattiesburg in Mississippi before moving to Baton Rouge in 1994 to work as a morning news anchor at WBRZ-TV.
A key feature of her job as a morning news anchor was getting up at 3:30 a.m.
“That was always the hardest part of that job — just getting up,” Vann said.
Except for a 2 ½-year stint in Jackson, Mississippi, in the mid-1990s, she has been in Baton Rouge ever since, but it wasn’t until 1999 that her enthusiasm for charity truly began. A friend asked her to join the board of the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, and from there she rarely turned down an offer to help. When she didn’t have time to join a board, she would at least try to show up to its luncheon or some annual event, she said.
“It really just sort of snowballed,” Vann said. “I love and have a passion for it, and that also snowballed.”
Some of her longest-serving efforts have been her six years on the board of Capital Area United Way, and four years on the board of the Junior League of Baton Rouge — but she also has lent a hand to dozens of charity groups over the years. She was actively involved in charities that raised money to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Her efforts come so close to overlapping that in the spring and fall, which Vann calls the busy season for charity events, she finds herself emceeing up to four galas per week, with each event drawing hundreds of people, she said.
Vann is married to Robert Schneckenburger, president of Chase Bank in Baton Rouge. The couple have a son, Reid, 16, and daughter, Sydney Joy, 11.
Nick Abraham, a professional counselor and friend of Vann’s ever since he first appeared on her program about 10 years ago, praised Vann’s relentless energy, and said he remained in awe that she could do so much fundraising while still anchoring a TV show early in the morning.
“When she’s with you, you’ll think you’re the only person in the world, and that’s powerful,” Abraham said.