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

2022 Honorees

Photo of Dee BaldockDee Baldock (Verona, Wisconsin) founded the Verona Area Community Theater in 1992, hoping to create a theatre experience that was welcoming for families. For 30 years, she has continued to produce, direct, act, build sets, and serve on the board as an unpaid volunteer. Dee was a crucial member of the fundraising and planning team that in 2017 secured a $1.7 million, 14,625 sq. ft. multi-use building, and worked tirelessly with the City of Verona to create an agreement to exchange land for housing the city dance program. Dee was integral in starting VACT’s youth theatre program in 2003, in which over 30 different schools across nine communities are regularly represented. In 2004, she was elected to the Wisconsin Association of Community Theatre and has served as its Treasurer for 16 years. She continues to recruit volunteers to join in her original vision of “having fun” by doing theatre.
Photo of Larry BernardLarry Bernard (Columbia, Missouri) has been an active volunteer with Columbia Entertainment Company (CEC) theatre for 32 years. His journey began as a member of the ensemble in a production of My Fair Lady, and over the years has included, as Larry says, “every job in this theatre except to conduct and play in the orchestra.” For the past 15 years, Larry has staffed the box office, and for the last decade has functioned as the volunteer operations manager. As one community member stated, “Larry’s greatest strength is how genuinely engaged he is with others. He is generous with praise and goes out of his way to make everyone who steps foot in the theatre feel like they are welcome and a part of the family.” According to Executive Director Enola Riann White, “Larry is one of the best parts of this theatre—he is CEC.”

Photo of Alathea BlischkeAlathea Blischke (Midland, Texas) and her husband Jim first began as members and, as owners of a local book store, financial supporters of Midland Community Theatre (MCT). Her theatrical involvement began in 1997 as a reader of new scripts, then as secretary/archivist, and finally as Chair of the MCT Board from 1999-2006. Alathea put her passion for sewing to work in the costume and prop shops, working to create, catalog and organize, as well as assisting other local groups. She continues in the prop shop to this day, taking on all challenges: puppets, magical dragons, jellyfish, puppets and even chickens. Alathea states “I am a proud techie! Each of the other six West Texas community theatres I’ve worked with have broadened my perspective on what a ‘community theatre’ is to itself and to its community.” In 2011, she began working in the theatre’s archives, conducting her most ambitious project to date—curating MCT’s 75-year history for the Midland County Historical Museum.
Photo of Emmajean EvansEmmajean Evans (Grosse Point, Michigan) has made an over 50- year commitment to Grosse Pointe Theatre, gracing and helping expand nearly every aspect of the organization. An award-winning actor, she has also worked  offstage  in  numerous capacities, including directing, producing, makeup, props, and costumes. She is a past board president, chair of social events, and has served on several committees, including leading the 50th anniversary celebration. Emmajean was awarded the coveted Worker of the Year two times, and has helped build the Youth On Stage program by teaching leadership and theatre skills. As a person of color, Emmajean has shared her wisdom and perspective regarding diversity and inclusion, engaging special-needs children and encouraging people from various cultures to be part of the theatre family. As Emmajean puts it “I love encouraging people to be the best they can be, and, in turn, they bring out the best in me.”

Photo of Ron and Freida HouckRon and Freida Houck (Newport, Kentucky) have been with the Footlighters since the 1960s, and have been instrumental in the success, growth, vision, leadership, and heart of the theatre. They have served in about every role, including as board members and donors, in set building, maintenance, membership, and fundraising. The Houcks, along with three others, made a dream a reality through their personal financial investment that allowed the Footlighters to purchase the Stained Glass Theatre in Newport. They championed the renovation of the historic landmark, and in 1991 led the effort to build a state-of-the-art 163-seat theatre in the building’s upper level. In 2007, Ron and Frieda were awarded the Art Rouse Award by the Association of Community Theatre of Greater Cincinnati for their outstanding commitment to local community theatre. As the Houcks say - “We are thankful for every opportunity of volunteering to make community theatre a reality for others in the future.”

Photo of Jean HardieJean Hardie (Spokane, Washington) began work in community theatre as a college student at the JayRob Comedy Playhouse in Sacramento, California, and then moved on to the Grand Street Theatre in Helena, Montana. For the past
over 40 years she has been with Spokane Civic Theatre, where she has directed, taught theatre classes, and is one of their most highly respected performers. Jean helped to create a traveling teen group called the Box ‘N Hat Players, which entertained at churches, retirement homes, schools, and other venues throughout the Inland Empire. She helped develop these young artists and instilled in them a passion for theatre. When asked about her work, she expressed, “I am most proud of the work I did with young people, several of whom have gone on to have professional theatrical careers, become drama teachers, or who still, as adults, are part of the Civic Theatre family.”

Photo of Gayla KirmerGayla Kirmer (Spearville, Kansas) has been involved with The Depot Theater since its inception about
40 years ago, and is a current board member, serving in the role of Company Liaison. She has been a performer and director, and during the COVID-19 pandemic worked long hours for months, organizing volunteers to purge, clean and organize costumes, props, lighting fixtures, storage spaces, set pieces, and rehearsal and laundry facilities. The offices were put in order, cleaned and painted for newly hired staff. Says Artistic Director Jon Montgomery, “Gayla has, mostly single-handedly, taken it upon herself to ensure the functional success of the Depot Theater, Inc. Her hard work and leadership have been an immeasurable benefit for us—and she has smiled through it all.” Gayla herself feels that community theatre “is important to the education and development of our youth and to the entertainment and economic development of southwest Kansas.”
Photo of Michael KrickmireMichael Krickmire (Fairport, New York) holds B.A., M.A. and M.F.A. degrees in Theatre Directing, and has faithfully served the Rochester and New York state theatre community for well over 25 years. He has directed for many theatres throughout the state, and is currently serving his third term as President of the Theatre Association of New York State (TANYS). Over the years, Michael has worked to create a symbiotic relationship between TANYS and the New York State Theatre Educators Association (NYSTEA), whose membership is composed of K-12 educators. He currently serves on several boards, as well as the Education and “Stars of Tomorrow” steering committees of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League. Michael has received several awards for his work in theatre and strongly believes “that the power of community theatre deeply enriches the lives of those who volunteer onstage, backstage and in board positions, while bringing art to life for the audiences that support their efforts to do so.”

Photo of Lynn NelsonLynn Nelson (Tupelo, Mississippi) has been active in theatre since she played the part of the spoon in her third-grade play about manners. Her theatre career continued when she was cast in a role at Tupelo Community Theatre in 1984, where she has been active ever since. She has served as a TCT board member since 1995, as well as on the board of the Southeastern Theatre Conference as VP of Divisions and as Community Theatre Division Chair. Lynn has directed shows at TCT, as well as in surrounding communities. She is active in state, regional and national theatre with the Mississippi Theatre Association and AACT, where she was recently inducted as an AACT Fellow. To quote TCT past president Tracie Conwill, “Lynn Nelson invited me to work backstage in 1996. I did and have not left the building since. I have so much respect for Lynn and her leadership in community theatre.”

Photo of Rob RiceRob Rice (Tupelo, Mississippi) has been an active member of Tupelo Community Theatre since 1987. Over the last 35 years Rob has been in dozens of TCT shows, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which was the theatre’s first to win the Mississippi Theatre Association festival and advance to the Southeastern Theatre Conference festival. Rob supports TCT financially as a patron, as well as through his business. He has served various board terms since 1997, including as president in 2002, when TCT employed its first executive director—a step which brought a new level of stability to the organization. His strong business sense has helped TCT stay viable and continue growing through its 51 years. In theatre, Rob says he has “found a family of wonderful and creative lifelong friends who not only love theatre but also love each other. And that is even better than a standing ovation.”

Previous Recipients

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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