Robert E. Gard Award

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

2020 Honorees

Photo of Susie PolitoSusie Polito (Midland, Michigan) is “a force to be reckoned with,” ac­cording to the Midland Center for the Arts. “In our region, her name is synonymous with community theatre. She is one of those volunteers who comes around once a generation, and when she wants something done, she does it.” In addition to her time on stage, which began 40 years ago, Susie has directed numerous productions, including a 2009 production of To Kill a Mockingbird that fostered a relationship with Northwood University and the Dow Chemical diversity network. She serves as a mentor to young artists, giving them encouragement and confidence, and has served on theatre committees, task forces, and the Board of Directors. In addition to her many volunteer efforts, Susie also ran the theatre program at Northwood University, in Midland.

Photo of Debra RobisonDebra Robison (Tupelo, Mississippi) attended an audition at the Lyric Theatre, home of Tupelo Community Theatre (TCT), in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1994 for Hello Dolly!—and was cast in the chorus. Little did anyone know that her tenure with TCT would last more than a quarter of a century, and that she would mean so much to the organization. A talented pianist and singer, Debra found TCT a perfect outlet. She served as a volun­teer music director for many musicals, occasionally stepping in when another musical director left. She was first elected to the board of TCT in 2000, and has served a total of more than 15 years, currently completing her second year as President. Debra has served on every committee and has been a driving force in TCT’s success and phenomenal growth. As a paralegal with a local law firm, Debra lends that expertise to TCT as well – volunteering countless hours, writing and procuring much-needed grants.

Photo of Charles Wilson Charles Wilson (Lynn Haven, Flor­ida) formed the Kaleidoscope Theatre in 1971, with fellow Bay High teacher Anna Kelley. Charlie wrote the com­pany’s first production, using mostly students from his class as actors. There were 13 people in the first audi­ence, and 18 actors on stage. To date (nearly 50 years later) his company has mounted nearly 300 productions. Although Kaleidoscope Theatre’s building was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018, the rebuilding was accelerated significantly because Charlie had already designed a new facility with plans both on paper and as a physical model. His continued involve­ment included directing, acting, designing and building logos, sets, and costumes, while serving on the Board of Directors. “Charlie Wilson has been the heart of Kaleidoscope for all these years,” says its Board of Directors. “When we needed a show, he wrote one; when we needed costumes, he learned to design and sew; when we needed a set, he designed and built it. Charlie has done it all.


Previous Recipients

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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