ROCKFORD – Working to make Rock River Valley a better and more vibrant place to live is their goal.
A native of Rockford, Gary Anderson, 74, architect, historical curator, community activist and owner of Studio GWA is the 2021 Excalibur Award winner, recognizing someone who makes a big difference in the Rock River Valley.
The Rockford Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1934, was named the recipient of the 2021 Excelsior Award, recognizing an organization focused on excellence in community service and improving life in the Rockford area.
Due to the persistent pandemic, we were unable to come together to celebrate this year. But here’s a look at your winners.
Winner of the Excalibur Award
Gary Anderson, 24, returned from college to begin his architectural career in 1971, the same year the Rockford Register Star awarded its first-ever Excalibur Award.
Anderson was present in the audience at the Faust Hotel. He stood alongside Rockford’s civic, business and government leaders when engineer and philanthropist Bill O’Donnell was honored.
O’Donnell was the first of what would become a line of the area’s most influential residents in five decades to be honored with an Excalibur Award for exemplary community service and for making a difference in the Rock River Valley. .
“I remember thinking when I was young, how good it would be to win someday,” said Anderson.
Previous winners:Winners of the Excalibur and Excelsior awards from 1971 to present
Today, 50 years later, that day has arrived: Anderson is the recipient of the 2021 Excalibur Prize, recognizing a lifetime of contributions to the community.
Anderson’s legacy can be seen by anyone visiting Rockford town center.
It’s in the Hilton Embassy Suites hotel on South Main Street, a 13-story former Amerock factory that seemed destined for a wrecking ball before he helped lead an effort to save it. It’s in the Prairie Street Brewhouse, a historic $ 12 million renovation of the 1857 Peacock Brewery building on Prairie and Madison streets.
It’s also in the relatively new Nicholas Conservatory on Second Street which has Illinois’ third largest conservatory with an 11,000 square foot plant exhibit area complete with water features, seating, and sculptures.
There are many other examples, but Anderson has gone to great lengths to protect Rockford’s built history and character. He helped draft the city’s historic preservation ordinance in the 1970s. And Anderson worked behind the scenes to preserve historic structures for generations to come.
Theater of times:Long-vacant Times Theater in Rockford could see new life thanks to state grant
He has worked and volunteered for countless community service organizations and campaigns including Landmark Illinois, Fordham Forward, Keith Creek Greenway Steering Committee, Transform Rockford and many more.
Anderson has known most of the 51 other Excalibur winners before him.
“They were the things you maybe aspire to,” Anderson said after being named a finalist for the fourth time. “It’s one of those things. It’s good to recognize what a person has done for the community.”
Winner of the Excelsior Award
Eight years after O’Donnell won the first Excalibur, the first Excelsior Prize was awarded in 1979, honoring the organizations that make the biggest difference in the lives of people living in the Rock River Valley.
This year, that honor goes to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, an organization that has broadened the cultural horizons of those who have lived in the Rock River Valley for 87 years. Its music offers a respite from everyday life and its musicians work with young people who dream of becoming musicians themselves one day.
It’s an honor that comes as Steven Larsen, three-time Illinois Conductor of the Year, is retiring after 30 years as Music Director of RSO. Next year, the organization will embark on the search for a new leader, said CEO Julie Thomas.
“It’s always rewarding to be recognized, to know or to have that affirmation that what you’re doing makes sense,” Thomas said. “We know that, but it’s really great to hear that other people are feeling that too. I think it’s very motivating.”