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.

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.

Stay tuned for our digital video release honoring Lisa Plank’s work!

Lisa Plank accepting her award plaque from Nora Salas, standing outside the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

2020 Award Recipient Connie Navarro

The Kutsche Office of Local History recognizes Connie Navarro's commitment to using history to give voice to Latino communities in west Michigan. For decades, Navarro has been a powerful force for documenting, sharing, and celebrating local Latino life and culture. She and her family founded the Muskegon-based nonprofit Latinos Working for the Future in 1991. The organization promotes collaboration and education in support of the city's Latino population, most recently hosting the inaugural Muskegon County Latino Festival in 2019.

Navarro grew up in Texas and Oceana County, Michigan. Her migrant farming family relocated to Muskegon's Ryerson Heights Federal Housing Project around World War II, becoming part of an enclave of Latino families in the neighborhood. This community - affectionately called La Colonia - would inspire Navarro to conduct a series of oral histories in the 2000s to capture and memorialize this unique community. Much of her work culminated in her co-authorship of A New Home in Michigan: The Mexican-American Experience in Muskegon, published in 2010.

Navarro has worked closely with the Kutsche Office of Local History since its inception in 2009. A dear friend of office namesake Paul Kutsche, Navarro has served on the Advisory Council and provided essential guidance to projects related to Latino life and history in the region.

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. 

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.