As many stories as I’ve done on the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame since its formation in 2001, I’m not sure I really got it … until recently.
That’s when I attended the group’s Class of 2014 induction at Villa Olivia in Bartlett.
It was a wonderful affair — good food; lively conversation; fantastic music, thanks to the Elgin Youth Symphony’s Maud Powell String Quartet and Auroran Huntley Brown, an international concert pianist and 2010 inductee.
But what touched me most were the acceptance speeches made by the six artists in this new class.
Although I’ve spent many more hours of my life on bleachers than in auditorium seats, I did play trumpet through high school, attempted to teach myself piano and am now singing the same self-created children’s songs to my grandkids I warbled to their parents as much as three decades ago.
So yes, I appreciate the arts. But I am more in awe of its power after listening to these accomplished men and women talk about how their lives were transformed and enriched.
Brian DuSell, sharing words written by his father, artist and painter D. Lee DuSell, spoke eloquently about a lifelong passion that led to a remarkable 60-year career in a half-dozen mediums including woodwork and metal, printmaking and fashion that are still on display throughout the United States, as well as Japan and Saudi Arabia.
While D. Lee DuSell now lives on a farm in Syracuse, N.Y., the East Aurora grad’s heart is still clearly in his hometown, where that love for the arts was seeded and nourished.
Those who still reside in the Fox Valley or returned to continue their impressive careers include my friend Jim Gibson of Sugar Grove, a world-traveled musician, Emmy winning TV host and producer; Auroran George Shipperley, a nationally-known artist who only began devoting himself full-time to his oil paintings after retiring from BF Goodrich tires at age 56; and Elvina Truman Pearce of Naperville, a nationally recognized pianist, composer and author who, in her best piano-teacher voice, hammered home the importance of passing along this love to future generations.
Computers may be essential to the lives of our young people, Pearce pointed out, but “they can’t create or live artistic expression.” And unless we provide access to such experiences, it will be lost as technology becomes even more ingrained in our lives.
Randal Allan Swiggum, a music educator from Wisconsin who has made Elgin “my second home” in his 16 years as conductor of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, described himself as an introverted child from a humble background who did not hear his first orchestra until college.
But the arts “gave me a picture of how the world can be,” he told the audience and “created the mosaic” that made him the success he is today.
Like other members of this Hall of Fame class, Swiggum’s determination to help future generations drives much of his work today. While he’s affiliated with many distinguished organizations, “the real privilege,” he said, “is having 1,000 fifth-graders” behind him performing Beethoven or Tchaikovsky “and saying how awesome it is.”
It’s also why he and the other inductees, including Linda Rock, who nominated “Elgin’s grand dame of the arts,” the late Jane Peterson, spent much of their time at the microphone praising the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame for promoting this shared passion.
DuSell noted that the presence of such a vibrant organization speaks to “the level of enlightenment and sophistication” in his hometown.
Although Shipperley has received myriad honors for his talents, he called this induction “the most important award” he’s ever received.
“We have a responsibility when we’re inducted,” he said, “Not just to better yourself but to develop the talents of others.”
Swiggum, too, described the honor as “the biggest” of his life, And the youth conductor didn’t even try to hide his emotions as he described how the arts showed him it is “better to be grateful and joyful than just to be successful.”
Those final words stuck with me long after I left the banquet room that evening … much like the soaring notes played by Huntley Brown and those talented kids of the Maud Powell Symphony.
Art, Swiggum had told the audience, teaches kids to “become a better expert noticer.”
I get it. You couldn’t help but notice the joy in that room.