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Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 01:27 pm

The poetry of longevity

Illinois State Historical Society honors 23 centenarians

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Poetry Managing Editor Valerie Johnson accepts an award from ISHS President Russell Lewis and Vice President Elaine Egdorf.
PHOTO COURTESY ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICL SOCIETY

What do Poetry Magazine, Chicago Chinatown, Madison County, Haenig Electric Company and the YMCA of McDonough County have in common? They are a few of 23 Illinois businesses, nonprofits and municipalities bestowed with a Centennial Award this year by the Illinois State Historical Society. The award recognizes organizations that have operated continuously for at least 100 years.

These centenarians have set the course of perseverance and excellence in their fields, leading the way for others. They join more than 1,300 past winners to receive this annual distinction from the ISHS, a Springfield-based nonprofit.

Awards were presented to recipients recently at the Executive Mansion in Springfield. Each attendee was treated to a dessert reception. They were also spotlighted in the September-October issue of ISHS’s magazine, Illinois Heritage. On hand at the reception and ceremony to welcome this unique group was ISHS Executive Director Bill Furry, Illinois Executive Mansion Curator David Bourland and ISHS President Russell Lewis of Chicago. Leah Axlerod of Highland Park presented the awards.

One award recipient in attendance was Poetry Magazine. Founded in Chicago in 1912 by Harriet Monroe, Poetry is a monthly book of poems. Some of the greatest poets of the 20th century were published in Poetry, including T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes; central Illinois poets Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg; and most of the leading contemporary poets of the 21st century.

In the literary world, thousands of publications start up each year and die soon after. Only a handful survive for 10 decades in a world where funds are as hard to come by as readers. But Poetry is smiling at its recent successes in both areas. A $200 million endowment from Ruth Lilly in 2002 brought the funds. The establishment in 2003 of the Poetry Foundation, that became publisher of Poetry, gave a boost to the magazine’s mission to celebrate the best poetry around, while also getting closer to reaching the largest possible audience, one of its missions.

Their new home has helped, too. Poetry and Poetry Foundation are now housed in a new green building designed by John Ronan Architects and opened in 2011. Enthusiasts of poetry and architecture are flocking to the building at 61 W. Superior St. in Chicago. It has numerous interesting features, such as a public garden between offices and street wall, a 30,000-volume library, an exhibition gallery and a reading room, designed with optimized acoustics and a backdrop of the garden. An amazing lineup of speakers and programs is planned to celebrate Poetry’s 100th year, including a reading by poetry giant Seamus Heaney at the Art Institute of Chicago.    

Right here in Springfield, Haenig Electric Company, Inc. received a centennial award. The business began in 1904 as an electrical repair business by Albert and John Haenig. The shop used to be at 314 S. Fourth St., downtown. Today, under the ownership of Debbie and Mike Marsaglia since 1980, the company has expanded to 2951 Stanton Ave. It specializes in home and commercial generators, solar lighting and commercial electrical contracting.

The next ISHS Centennial Awards Program is the Sesquicentennial Church Awards. This is open to churches that have operated continuously in Illinois for 150 years or more. Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2013. A reception will be held in Peoria.

For more information about the ISHS, its Centennial Awards Program or the Sesquicentennial Church Program, phone 525-2781 or visit www.historyillinois.org.

Contact Anita Stienstra at astienstra@illinoistimes.com.

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