Robert E. Gard Award | AACT

Robert E. Gard Award

Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer
Presented to volunteers over 65 who have faithfully served community theatre for over 25 years

2023 Honorees

Photo of Thomas AmickThomas Amick (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) has served the Chambersburg Community Theatre (CCT) as a volunteer since 1976, first as an actor and a member of the backstage crew. In 1982, he took it upon himself to learn how to operate the light board, and since then has programmed countless productions, a task that can often take a full day. For this he often took off work or gave up evenings and weekends to work on lighting plans. At 85, he continues to program and run the lights for many productions. He also has served several terms on the company’s Board of Directors and has been a volunteer director for over 25 mainstage productions, children’s camps and community events. His directing often includes new and innovative staging and the use of theatre technology that has benefitted CCT, which says it “has been blessed by his presence over the past 47 years and grateful for his many volunteer services.”

Photo of Martha CherbiniMartha Cherbini (Tulsa, Oklahoma) is a semi-retired attorney who first became involved in community theatre at Oklahoma’s Muskogee Little Theatre (MLT) in 1997: She first participated as an actor, then as a director and board member. Her interest in the business side of community theatre led her to join the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association in the early 2000s, eventually serving as its president. She served as Treasurer of MLT, and when MLT built a $5 million theatre, it posted a plaque on the wall with her name as a contributor and champion of the theatre. Always looking for new ground to explore, she began directing for Broken Arrow Community Playhouse in 2009 and took a production of The Gin Game from there to National AACTFest in 2011 and then on to two international festivals in Canada. She is a Member-at-Large on the AACT Board of Directors and is Chair of the Endowment Committee.

Photo of Celia CoutureCelia Couture (Tewksbury, Massachusetts) began a 35-year love for community theatre as a child, when her mother took her to see live plays and musicals. She has since been a director, board member, and performer. She is most grateful for the actors, stage managers, and set, lighting, costume, and sound designers she has had the privilege to collaborate with and direct and is “humbled by their profound love and sharing of the scripted word or their ability to tell a story through music, set design, lighting, or sound effect”. Celia has led almost a dozen state and regional festivals in Massachusetts, believing that professionally adjudicated festivals encourage theatrical risk-taking. She works to ensure that community theatre thrives in eastern Massachusetts, coordinating with several groups to create an alliance facilitating the sharing of resources and venue costs. She is proud of “the volunteerism displayed by the countless individuals across the country who bring the theatrical experience to our communities.”

Photo of Susan “Suzie” DorgelohSusan “Suzie” Dorgeloh (Manchester Center, Vermont) has been involved with the Dorset Players for more than 30 years. Her primary role has been as costumer and costume shop manager, maintaining and developing the theatre’s collection of over 600 costume pieces, some of which are made available to other community theatres in Vermont. She also oversees the organization of the prop room and dressing rooms. She has been an actor, stage manager, producer, director, and board member. She also has solicited businesses for advertising, designed programs, ushered, sold tickets, hung posters, baked goods for concession, pulled weeds, and cleaned every inch of the building, including catwalks and toilets many times over. This award is especially meaningful to her since she plans to step down from her position as full-time costumer at the end of this season. However, she has not rule out doing costuming for an occasional show, or directing and will continue volunteering in other capacities when needed.

Photo of Joseph Ennenbach Joseph Ennenbach (La Salle, Illinois) has been involved with Stage 212 in La Salle, Illinois, since its inception in 1968. In those early years, as a journalism major and subsequently a working journalist, he wrote press releases for the organization's productions. In 1973 he was invited to join the group's board of directors, and this year marks his 50th year of continuous service. During that time, he has served eight terms as president and as chair of numerous committees (particularly those involved with bylaws and policy, following his change of career to the practice of law in the 1980s. He oversaw the production of show programs for every Stage 212 production from 1985 to 2019. He has also been an actor and director. Since retirement from his law practice, he has joined the boards of several other non-profit theatres, including Engle Lane Theatre (Streator, Ill.), Morris Theatre Guild, and Festival 56 (Princeton, Ill.).

Photo of Preston FryPreston Fry (Shawnee, Oklahoma) started his Shawnee Little Theatre (SLT) volunteer journey 28 years ago, when his seven-year-old daughter was cast in her first play. Since then, Preston has volunteered for building sets, running sound and lights, serving on committees, joining running crews, designing scenic projections, and creating special effects. He also finds himself in an occasional role on the SLT stage. Preston not only creates and repairs but is also friend and mentor to the theatre’s other volunteers. He tells his SLT family, “If we aren’t having fun then we don’t need to be here.” According to Ronny Jones, SLT’s Artistic Director, "Preston has become Shawnee Little Theatre's go-to volunteer. He is our ‘911’ when issues arise and there is simply nothing he won't tackle. For many reasons, Preston Fry is our 'Man for All Seasons’.”

Photo of Frank PeotFrank Peot (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin) began his involvement with theatre in elementary school and continued through high school, college, and beyond. He joined AACT as a charter member in 1986. He has been a member of numerous AACT committees and has served as secretary for the AACT Board of Directors since 1990. Frank travels to all the board meetings, keeps the minutes and attends all the AACTFest events. He also has represented AACT at the International Amateur Theatre Association Congress and Festivals in Monaco, Norway, Korea, and Canada. Frank has extensive experience as an administrator, adjudicator, director, writer, and designer, and has served as president, vice president, secretary, and board member for many arts organizations.  His resume includes involvement with over 300 productions—including as technical director for over 75 productions for Sun Prairie High School.

Photo of Dennis WicklineDennis Wickline (Grosse Point, Michigan) has been with Grosse Pointe Theatre (GPT) since 1974, including serving two terms as President of the Board of Directors, and chair of several committees. He has directed 13 main stage productions, and has designed sets, lighting, and sound. He also has been an actor in both dramas and musicals. Dennis shares his love for theatre in kind and generous ways, colleagues say, helping each actor to achieve his/her strongest character, while interacting with follow actors to convey a believable and entertaining story for audiences, whether in main stage productions, GPT’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, or Senior Theatre group. Dennis says that working with the theatre has been “one of the finest associations of my life. I met my wife here. I met many of my lifelong friends here and our kids grew up here. In short, community theatre has played a major role in my life.”

Photo of Denise WisneskiDenise Wisneski (Phoenixville, Pennsylvania) has been active at Phoenixville’s Forge Theater since the early 1980s, and has become known as an outstanding musical director for at least one show every season for the last 10 plus years. She also has served on the theatre’s board, done both set painting and set decoration, and served on the stage crew and as assistant director. Although she has served as musical director or audition pianist at other community theatres in her area, she considers Forge Theatre to be her home. Denise says she is in constant awe of the incredible talents that cross the stages of community theatres. “That actors and crew freely give of their time and talents—all for the love of the arts—is inspiring,” she adds. “We share in each other's joys and sorrows and the friendships formed, as well as a sense of family, last long past those final curtain calls.”

Previous Recipients

2022 Dee Baldock (Verona, Wisconsin)
2022 Larry Bernard (Columbia, Missouri)
2022 Alathea Blischke (Midland, Texas)
2022 Emmajean Evans (Grosse Point, Michigan)
2022 Ron and Freida Houck (Newport, Kentucky)
2022 Jean Hardie (Spokane, Washington)
2022 Gayla Kirmer (Spearville, Kansas)
2022 Michael Krickmire (Fairport, New York)
2022 Lynn Nelson (Tupelo, Mississippi)
2022 Rob Rice (Tupelo, Mississippi)
2021 Linda Blystone (Spring City, Pennsylvania)
         Emma Bradley (Grand Marais, Minnesota)
         Jude Knight (Memphis, Tennessee)
2020 Susie Polito (Midland, Michigan)
         Debra Robison (Tupelo, Mississippi)
         Charles Wilson (Lynn Haven, Flor­ida)
2019 Carl and Jane Moore (Midland, Texas)
2018 Joseph Connor (Sandy Spring, Maryland)
         Kathleen Davis (Evergreen, Colorado)
         Pat Heiss (Charlotte, North Carolina)
         David Zacharias (Merced, California)
2017 Sally Barnes (Broken Arrow, Oklahoma)
         Gloria Filean (Des Moines, Iowa)
         Barry Fuller (Memphis, Tennessee)
         Rita Heizer (Billings, Montana)
         Gerri Nichols (Troy, Ohio)
2016 Beverly Allen (Helena, MT)
         Barbara Christensen (Hartland, WI)
         Margi Ritscher (Ansbach, Germany)
         Susan Tucker (Concord, MA)
         Dr. Charles "Bud" Vear (Hillsdale, MI)
2015 Ruth Behrend* (Hartland, WI)
2015 Guy Dillaway (Weston, MA)
2015 Jean Endrizzi (Duluth, MN)
2015 Richard and Elaine Albright (Aurora, IL)
2015 Libby Kafka (Sharon, MA)
2014 Alvin Blasco (Streator, IL)
         Ron McDaniel (Danville, IL)
         Barbara Tarlin (Wellesley, MA)
2013  John Lynn* (Mundelein, IL)
           Charla Rowe (Fort Washington, MD)
           Richard Sherwin (Tallahasee, FL)
2012  Don Mansfield (Jackson, MI)
           Judi Schweppe Johnson (Eugene, OR)
           Richard C. Whaley (Annapolis, MD)
2011  Geri Becker (Venice, FL)
           Wayne Pressnall (North Platte, NE)
           Bennett Wood (Memphis, TN)
2010  Arthur Delo, Jr. (Jersey City, NJ)
          Martha Kovacsi* (Bay City, MI)
          Madge Levinson (Toledo, OH)
2009  Rae Cohan (Newport Beach, CA)
         Max Polley (Davidson, NC)
         Willa Wye Rockett (Belmont, MA)

2008 James N. Alexander, III* (Haddon Heights, NJ)
         Peg Brandon (Winter Haven, FL)
         Henry Pope (Walla Walla, WA)
2007  Rosemary Green & Louise Carpenter  (Ocala, FL)
2006  Marge and Ted* Ressler (Dover, DE)
2005  Hal Robinson (Royal Oak, MI)
          Sherman C. Ward, Jr.* (Haddenfield, NJ)
2004  Tom Cowley (Ponca City, OK)
          Jo Pruden (Fort Shafter, HI)
2003  Charlotte Hall (Fort Thomas, KY)
          Fred Normand (Rome, NY)
           Isabella Ward (Dover, DE)
2002  Paul Sturner* (Tonawanda, NY)
2001  Heddie Kent (Concord, MA)
2000  Jane Margison (Riverside, CA)
           Robert Montgomery (Bremerton, WA)
1999  Betsey Reeder (Memphis, TN)
1998  Dottie Griffith (St. Joseph, MI)
1997  Jean Mitchell* (Grand Rapids, MI)
1996  Holley R. Webster* (Wallingford, PA)
1995  Ruth Cole* (Midland, TX)
1994  John Edmands* (Racine, WI)
1993  Firth Chew* (Spokane, WA)
1991  Mary Dwyer* (Sheyboygan, WI)
1990  Dick Brown* (Des Moines, IA)
1989  Mary Peckham* (Omaha, NE)
          Lil Williams* (Ardmore, OK)
1988  Alice B. Rogers* (Memphis, TN)
          Hilda Greenquist* (Racine, WI)
1987  Peggy Greene* (Topeka, KS)
1985  Roberta Kendrick* (Minneapolis, MN)
1984  Emma & Alan* Bowlsby
          (Indianapolis, IN)
1983  Ruth Kenyon Tate*
          (North White Plains, NY)
1982  L. K. Boutin* (Des Moines, IA)   *Deceased0152015 2015

Robert E. Gard

This award is named in honor of Robert E. Gard, because of his lifetime commitment to theatre at the grassroots level. He taught playwriting at the University of Kansas and at Cornell, became a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, Humanities Division, and remained a fellow, and held numerous Rockefeller Foundation grants for many years. He later helped to found, with Professor Alexander M. Drummond, the New York State Playwriting Project, and helped to establish a statewide training program for New York State playwrights. In 1945 he received an offer to join the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, where he established the Wisconsin Idea Theatre Conference. He remained as director of Arts Development until, at age 70, he retired from all administrative duties. Gard founded the National Community Theatre Center in 1958 and conducted a national survey of the American Community Theatre in 1957-1958 for the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1967 Gard led a team, which surveyed the American Theatre for the National Theatre Conference. In 1967 he received the first large grant made by the National Endowment for the Arts for work with smaller communities.

Gard's list of citations is long: Kansas Theatre Hall of Honor; Pabst award for service to nationality groups; Distinguished Citizen Award from the Governor of Wisconsin; Member of the Finnish national Academy of Sciences and Letters; National Chairman of Fulbright Theatre Committee; Distinguished Service Award, Wisconsin Theatre Association; and many other awards and citations. The Robert E. Gard award was established in 1982, following Gard's offer to fund a "superior volunteer award" to be given annually to one or more persons who have served their theatres faithfully for many years in an unpaid capacity.  ACTA (later AACT) decided to name the award in Professor Gard's honor.


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