Twenty years ago, Essee Kupcinet, Bea Levy, and Shelly Zucker asked me to help them create a benefit cruise for Chicago Academy for the Arts (CAA) aboard the maiden voyage of the Odyssey.

This year, I was honored by the CAA who has named me the recipient of the Irv and Essee Kupcinet Leadership Award. To receive an award bearing Irv and Essee’s names is truly overwhelming. I am so proud yet so humbled by this.

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In addition to my award, the CAA also presented its first Alumni Award to Tom Gold, right,  class of ’86, the former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet and the Civic Award to Joan W. Harris, Chairman of the Irving Harris Foundation and Chairman of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance Board of Trustees.

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Pamela Jordan, the CAA Head of School, has done a fantastic job.

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CBS news anchor and documentary producer, Bill Curtis, was an enthusiastic Master of Ceremonies. Like me, he remains close to the school his late son attended.

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I chose to share my award with Bea Levy, a member of the CAA’s original board of directors and a close friend of the Kupcinets.

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I jotted down a few words of acceptance.

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My brother, Ray, left, Bea Levy and my proud mom, shared the winners circle with me.

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Sandy Aguillera flew in from Las Vegas to enjoy the presentation first hand.

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From left, Kyoko Binosi, Karen Crane and Jayne Westendorf Holland are stalwarts in my devoted support group.

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Elaine Hohs and I have been friends since our student days at Arlington (Heights) High School.

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Leslie Senne, left, her husband Bill, and Susan Tjarksen collaborated as “Friends of John Robert Wiltgen” to make the awards ceremony and luncheon a rollicking social success attended by more than 300 guests.

My passion for promoting arts education drives my devotion to CAA. May your world be enriched by the talents of highly trained members of the arts profession.