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Over 140 People Attend SPARK, Raise $90k for Chicago Metro History Fair

More than 140 people filled Ruggles Hall at The Newberry Library for SPARK, an awards dinner to celebrate people and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the Chicago Metro History Fair and history education. Willard Evans, Peoples Gas, Kristina Valaitis, the Illinois Humanities Council, Frank Gelber, Timuel Black, and Peggy Hall-Heineman received awards, and the Chicago Metro History Education Center (C.M.H.E.C.) raised more than $90,000 to support the Chicago Metro History Fair.

Mark Trembacki, Chair of the C.M.H.E.C. Board of Directors, said, "The event really illustrated the high impact of History Fair on students. The award portion of the ceremony was incredible! Every speech was warm and special."

Willard Evans and Peoples Gas received the George Javaras Corporate Award. Ron Kaminski, C.E.O. of HBK Engineering and a C.M.H.E.C. Board Member, noted the support that Peoples Gas had provided for the Chicago Metro History Fair dating back to the early 1980s. He also highlighted the deep commitment that Evans has displayed for Chicago through his charitable activities.

This award is named for George Javaras, a longtime partner at Kirkland & Ellis and former C.M.H.E.C. Board member. Peoples Gas made its first donation to the Chicago Metro History Fair in 1991, and it has provided nearly annual support that has continued to the present.

Will Evans, as president of Peoples Gas from 2008 to 2014, has maintained the company's commitment to quality education in Chicago, including support for the Chicago Metro History Fair. Richard Turner, retired manager of corporate contributions at Peoples Gas and long-time Chicago Metro History Fair volunteer, was in attendance along with Mary Houpt, the current manager of corporate contributions at Peoples Gas.

Kristina Valaitis and the Illinois Humanities Council (I.H.C.) received the Richard Brown Award for their support of History Fair. In presenting the award, C.M.H.E.C. Board Member Daniel Greene noted the deep commitment of the I.H.C. and Ms. Valaitis to the Chicago Metro History Fair.

The I.H.C. was one of the organizations that helped found the Chicago Metro History Fair in the late 1970s, and the I.H.C. remains the single largest funder of the Chicago Metro History Fair since its founding. I.H.C. Life Board Member Nancy Stevenson accepted the award on behalf of the I.H.C. and spoke about Ms. Valaitis's strong support of the Chicago Metro History Fair over the years as a program officer and executive director of I.H.C. every year making the case for the importance and value of the program.

The award is named for Richard Brown, one of the founders of History Fair at The Newberry Library, who served on the CMHEC Board of Directors from 1979 until 2009.

C.M.H.E.C. Board Members Gail Ward and Roger Martinez, C.E.O. of Quantum Crossings, presented Frank Gelber of the The Gelber Group with the SPARK Catalyst Award for the extraordinary impact he had in supporting the Chicago Metro History Fair. As a member of C.M.H.E.C.'s Board of Directors, Gelber played a central role in the success of the inaugural Spark event in 2013 and setting a new standard for C.M.H.E.C.'s fundraising efforts.

In presenting the award, Ward mentioned that while Gelber served as development director for the CMHEC Board of Directors, CMHEC increased its annual fundraising for events by more than 300%, and that the generous contributions from Gelber Foundation were greater than those from any other individuals or family foundations during the years he served on the Board.

C.M.H.E.C. Board Member Russell Lewis, Vice President and Chief Historian of the Chicago History Museum, presented Timuel Black with the SPARK Public Service Award. The C.M.H.E.C. stated, “Lewis described the honor he felt in presenting this award because of the monumental contributions that Black had made as a leading educator and historian of the African-American community in Chicago. Not content to simply teach history, Black also made history as a pioneer in Chicago's independent black political movement. Every year, History Fair students seek him out for interviews, and he is always generous with his time, knowledge, and wisdom.”

Peggy Hall-Heineman, a longtime teacher in Chicago Public Schools, received the SPARK Teaching Award. In presenting the award, Lisa Oppenheim, the C.M.H.E.C.’s Director of History Fair, lauded Ms. Hall-Heineman for her commitment to learning through the Chicago Metro History Fair.

According to the C.M.H.E.C., Ms. Hall-Heineman “taught History Fair brilliantly for more than thirty years, beginning at Good Counsel High School in the late 1970s and continuing at Von Steuben High School until her retirement in 2011. Hall-Heineman was twice honored with teacher of the year awards during her career, and she served on CMHEC's Teacher Advisory Board for more than 25 years. In retirement, she has remained actively involved in History Fair as an [sic] volunteer and judge.”

The C.M.H.E.C. stated it “is deeply grateful to the generous people and organizations that contributed to SPARK, especially the corporate and foundation sponsors.” HBK Engineering, LLC is listed as the Benefactor.

The Sponsors are listed as BMO Harris Bank; ComEd; Gelber; Peoples Gas; Quantum Crossings, LLC; and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The Patrons are listed as ColeTaylorBank; INTREN; Loyola University Chicago; the Roderick Group; STRATA; David Mason & Associates; KS Energy Services; and MZI Group.

The C.M.H.E.C. also announced that it will offer a National Endowment for the Humanities (N.E.H.) Summer Institute titled “Rethinking the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Capitalism, Democracy, and Progressivisms, 1877 to 1920” in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago (U.I.C.) and Loyola University Chicago. From Sunday, July 5 to Friday, July 31, 2015, thirty “K-12 teachers will deepen their knowledge and understanding of this important time period through readings, discussions, lectures, inquiries into primary sources, and exploration of historical and cultural resources in Chicago.” The program will be co-directed by U.I.C. historian Robert Johnston and the C.M.H.E.C.'s Crystal Johnson, in close partnership with Loyola Director of Teacher Support Charles Tocci and Master Teacher Michael Biondo of Maine South High School.

The C.M.H.E.C. stated, “First offered in July 2013, Rethinking GAPE asked participants to consider multiple ‘progressivisms’--the diverse, and sometimes competing, views that shaped the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.”

Robert D. Johnston Associate Professor of History and Director of the Teaching of History Program, remarked, "The 2013 NEH program was one of the highlights of my professional career. It is the perfect bridge between the world of scholarship and the world of K-12 teaching. We are reaching 3rd-grade students in Idaho and high school students in Chicago with some of the most important questions relating to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. I can't wait for 2015 (when theCubs [sic] will also win the World Series!)."

The program integrates more than a dozen guest scholars from around the U.S.A. as well as archival collections and tours of Chicago's historic spaces.

Equally important to the institute's academic explorations are its applications to teaching. Teachers are encouraged to bring their ideas to the classroom by collaboration with their fellow educators facilitated Tocci and Biondo.

That collegial excitement was a big part of the success of the 2013 program, as Tocci noted, "The [2013] teachers and scholars really dug into the history and into the city of Chicago. It's exciting to think about doing it again with 30 more excellent teachers with a passion for teaching history and the humanities."

Guest scholar Daniel Greene noted, "Grants in the humanities have become increasingly difficult to win. This significant grant is a testament to CMHEC's excellent work in the previous iteration of this summer institute in 2013. Crystal Johnson and Robert Johnston envisioned a compelling program, and the scholar/teachers who participated were first rate. I look forward to teaching in the program again in 2015."