Gordon Olson Award

Recognizing Outstanding Contributions to Local History

Do you know someone who has helped write, record, or share West Michigan history? Would you like to help recognize an individual making especially creative, valuable, or thought-provoking contributions to our understanding of local history? Nominations are now open for the Kutsche Office of Local History’s 2022 Gordon Olson Award. Nominations close on Sunday, February 27, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST.

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.

2021 Gordon Olson Award Recipient Lisa Plank

The Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University is pleased to announce Lisa Plank as our 2021 Gordon Olson Award winner. Most will know the Grand Rapids native as the Executive Director of the Lowell Area Historical Museum, the latest in a long career of bringing history out to the public in West Michigan. Plank excels at developing partnerships to share West Michigan’s diverse histories in a multitude of formats, from digitized collections to FM radio broadcasts to fostering the region’s next generation of public historians through student collaborations. Our nomination committee was also impressed with how Plank’s work acknowledges that local history is just as complex, critical, and contested as the present. Her frank incorporation of blackface on the Lowell Showboat and incorporation of Indigenous stories into the town’s history provides a model for other small local history institutions looking to share their own stories.

Established in 2014, the Gordon Olson Award will be given to one individual 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:

  • 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.