Gordon Olson Award

Recognizing Outstanding Contributions to Local History

The Gordon Olson Award recognizes individuals whose work embodies the Kutsche Office’s mission of “using history to give voice to diverse communities.” We celebrate those who help facilitate our understanding of the past and those who are documenting history as it happens in the present. Nominations are open to anyone, from historians, librarians, and genealogists, to journalists, artists, and community organizers. Winners receive a monetary award, plaque, recognition at our Annual Local History Roundtable, and GVSU media coverage for their work.

2024 winner Sophia Ward Brewer

Sophia Ward Brewer smiling

This year’s Gordon Olson Award recipient was lauded for her sheer breadth of skills and her commitment to leadership within the Grand Rapids local history community. Sophia Ward Brewer juggles a wealth of projects and positions, from multiple (past and current) roles with the Grand Rapids Public Library and Grand Rapids Community College, to her service as Director of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council since 2018.


Brewer has displayed decades of commitment to holding up the lesser-shared stories of Grand Rapids’ Black history and women’s history in particular, which aligns her perfectly with the Kutsche Office’s mission of using history to give voice to diverse communities in West Michigan. Through educational initiatives, original research, public programming, and tireless community advocacy, she has set herself apart as uniquely committed to the people of Grand Rapids, past, present, and future.

Established in 2014, the Gordon Olson Award is given once each year. Named in honor of Gordon Olson, former Grand Rapids City Historian and inaugural President of the Kutsche Office of Local History's Advisory Council, Olson's books, leadership, programming, mentorship, and advocacy have inspired generations of West Michigan residents. Past winners include:

  • 2023: Melissa Fox & Marjorie Viveen
  • 2022: Christine Byron & Tom Wilson
  • 2021: Lisa Plank
  • 2020: Connie Navarro
  • 2019: Kim Rush
  • 2018: JoEllyn Clarey
  • 2017: Wally Ewing & Margaret Tracy-Finkelstein
  • 2016: Carl Bajema
  • 2015: H. Sook Wilkinson
  • 2014: Gordon Olson
Jo Ellyn Clarey

2018 Gordon Olson Award Winner, JoEllyn Clarey. 

4th annual winners

4th Annual Award Winners: Wallace Ewing and Peg Finkelstein with Gordon Olson and Kimberly McKee (2017).

Gordon and Paul

Paul Kutsche and Gordon Olson in 2014 as Gordon receives the inaugural award.  

Page last modified April 11, 2024