Gordon Olson Award

Recognizing Outstanding Contributions to Local History

Nominations are closed for the 2023 Gordon Olson Award. Check back soon for updates on this year's winner.

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.

2022 Gordon Olson Award Recipients Chris Byron & Tom Wilson

The Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University is pleased to announce Chris Byron and Tom Wilson as our 2022 Gordon Olson Award winners. 

M. Christine Byron & Thomas R. Wilson’s nomination materials refer to them as “ambassadors” and “pillars” of the West Michigan local history community. Their museum-sized personal collection of Michigan postcards and tourism memorabilia is the very tip of the iceberg for research and resources that Chris and Tom have developed to preserve and share West Michigan’s diverse histories. Byron graduated from Aquinas College (1972) and West Michigan University (1980), eventually finding a home at the Grand Rapids Public Library. Wilson is a Lifetime Laker and balanced a career at Sears Roebuck with a passion for vintage automobiles, Michigan-related tourist prints, and historic travel ephemera. In their lives as local historians, the two have been essential to the notable History Detectives program, Grand Rapids Women’s History walking tours, Grand Rapids Historical Commission, published half a dozen books, wrote regular travel columns, and given uncountable public presentations and classes about Michigan history. Most recently, Byron has been compiling resources for Green Book listings in Michigan, drawing attention to systemic racism in the region during the Jim Crow era and the power in recognizing and preserving these places.


Their most commonly-noted accomplishment, however, has been their joy and willingness in assisting other researchers, and their passion for making West Michigan history more accessible to all.

Christine Byron, Peg Padnos, and Tom Wilson holding the 2022 Gordon Olson Award plaque.

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:

  • 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 March 21, 2023