“A thousand points of light” was former president George H.W. Bush’s term for the work of volunteers who roll up their sleeves and pitch in time and effort to make America a better place.
Grand Rapids Symphony has honored five of its brightest lights with its 2016 BRAVO! Awards for “exceptional contributions,” in the words of GRS board chair Kate Pew Wolters.
Dottie Johnson, Peter Perez and Larry Robson, campaign cabinet chairs, were honored for leading the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Legacy of Excellence Campaign that raised $40 million in cash, planned giving and estate plans for the orchestra’s growing endowment.
Peg Breon and Jim Preston were recognized for co-chairing the orchestra’s LiveArts extravaganza in 2015, a one-night only show with 1,500 performers that drew 7,100 to the Van Andel Arena in April 2015.
Gina Paul was honored with the Nancy & Ray Loeschner Volunteer Leadership Award for 16 years of service to the orchestra in many different capacities.
Since its debut in 1991, only 36 individuals, foundations and corporations have been given the Grand Rapids Symphony’s highest honor.
“Volunteer leadership is central to our symphony and its work to enrich our community,” said President and CEO Peter Kjome. “Committed people serve in varied roles, and the investment of their time, talent, and experience strengthens our symphony.”
With entertainment including baritone Leon Williams singing “What a Wonderful World,” the biennial event held May 10 raised nearly $320,000 to support GRS concert programming as well as its Gateway to Music education and access programs.
The Daniel & Pam DeVos Foundation underwrote the gala as presenting sponsor. Gold Sponsors included Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, Spectrum Health and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The gala held in DeVos Performance Hall featured the Grand Rapids Symphony performing under Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt. Guest violinist Benny Kim, performing selections from Astor Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” and principal cellist Alicia Eppinga, playing “The Swan” from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals,” were featured soloists for the concert sponsored by the Steelcase Foundation.
The Grand Rapids Symphony’s Legacy of Excellence Campaign, a multi-year effort to better secure the orchestra’s futures, is a major milestone in the 86-year history of the organization founded in 1930.
Launched in 2012 with a $20 million commitment from longtime supporters Rich and Helen DeVos – both past winners of the BRAVO! Award in 2001 and 2007 respectively -- pledges, promises and estate plans from another 150 individuals, couples, corporations and foundations are supplying the rest.
“Dottie, Peter and Larry’s leadership expanded relationships and realized a goal that was daunting to say the least,” Wolters said. “This accomplishment speaks across this county and beyond, to musicians, artists, managers, patrons and orchestra boards that the outstanding support from our community is helping to set the conditions for this fine orchestra’s continued success.
Perez, immediate past chairperson of the GRS Board of Directors, said the effort was a labor of love for himself as well as for Robson, vice chairperson of the board, and Johnson, a board member.
“When we got together 4 years ago in the symphony office, I felt there was a personal chemistry that would get us there,” said Perez, a past president of Steinway & Sons and of the musical instrument manufacturing company C.G. Conn.
The Grand Rapids Symphony’s work in the community was their inspiration, according to Johnson.
“Look what they do for us, for our community, and for our souls,” said Johnson who served 25 years as CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundation and 32 years as a trustee and past board chair of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
LiveArts, held in April 2015 as part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 85th anniversary season celebration, was the first time that the Grand Rapids Symphony, Broadway Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Ballet and Opera Grand Rapids engaged in a full-scale, collaborative show.
“Experiencing LiveArts last year assured me that the Grand Rapids Symphony deserved its dominating reputation and was an organization with vision,” said BRAVO! Awards co-chair David Whitescarver, who moved to West Michigan with his wife, Anne-Lise, only a few years ago.
LiveArts involved the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Orchestras, the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company, and the Opera Grand Rapids Chorus plus the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus and Youth Choruses plus several hundred school children and marching bands from East Kentwood High School and Grandville High School.
“They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and out of this fun has come this,” said Preston, former senior vice president with Well Fargo Advisors.
Ticket sales topped $1.2 million for the one-night only event.
“The result became a big, bright party that raised a lot of money,” said Breon, who co-chaired the 2013 BRAVO! Awards Gala among other volunteer work for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Pine Rest Foundation and Hope Network Foundation.
Gina Paul, a member of the Women’s Committee since 2000, piloted its first Luxury Raffle in 2008 that raised over $150,000 for the orchestra. She served as president of the organization in 2006 and co-chaired the 2010 Symphony Showhouse and the 2012 “Encore” Cookbook
Currently a member of the GRS Board of Directors, Paul served on its 2008 presidential search committee.
“There is no question that Gina embodies Nancy Loeschner’s commitment to the Symphony with similar energy, experience and engagement of others,” Wolters said.
The Nancy & Ray Loeschner Volunteer Leadership Award honors Nancy Loeschner, a longtime GRS volunteer who died in 2012 at age 80. The Loeschners were awarded the BRAVO! Award in 2001.
“Nancy was a dear friend and a hard-working lady,” said Paul, an architect and senior project manager with Integrated Architecture. “She always had such a sweet demeanor, and so many of us today, still say, ‘What would Nancy do?’”
The event held just before the end of the 2015-16 season acknowledged that the Grand Rapids Symphony enjoyed a season of milestones in the previous 12 months, including LiveArts, the completion of the Legacy of Excellence Campaign, and the signing of an unprecedented 5-year-long collective bargaining agreement with its musicians that will be in force through 2020.
Soon to come will be the selection and announcement of Grand Rapids Symphony’s next music director.
“I believe that we will look back on this period as one of the most important in our symphony’s history,” Wolters said.