Concordia University will honor the outstanding service of three individuals with its third annual Award for Excellence in Learning and Leadership at a banquet on Friday, April 1 at the Oak Park Country Club. Marguerite and Walter Bloch will receive the CURF award for Excellence in Community Leadership, and former District 90 school superintendent Tyra Manning will receive the award for Outstanding Contribution and Excellence in Learning and Education.
"We are delighted that the awards committee has chosen to select such outstanding pillars of our community," said Ruth Ann Johnson, the Concordia nomination committee chair and wife of the university's new president. Noting that the selection process is a difficult one," Johnson added, "We are blessed by so many truly gifted and giving leaders in our midst."
Manning spent 31 years in the education field, 12 of them as River Forest's superintendent. During her tenure, River Forest schools consistently ranked among the very best in the state. This past autumn, District 90 school were ranked first among the state's over 800 school districts which participated in last spring's Prairie State exams, the last on Manning's watch.
Manning was also instrumental in the passage of a 1998 tax referendum credited with helping keep the district in the black through the 2006-07 school year.
"Dr. Manning's guiding principal has been that all ideas, plans and decisions should be made with a 'yes' answer to the question: 'Is this best for the children?'" said Roosevelt Middle School principal Joanne Trahanas.
The Blochs have a long and distinguished history of cross-denominational and cross-cultural service locally, nationally and internationally, with dozens of church, charitable and government groups benefiting from their involvement. Together they have funded, in full or in part, 29 Peace Corps projects through the Oak Park Council on International Affairs.
This is not the first significant award for the Blochs, who moved to River Forest five years ago after 28 years in Oak Park. Last year they were honored by L'Arche USA with the Arlene Bozek Vision Award for their work with developmentally disabled individuals.
Marguerite "Mardy" Bloch is a veteran educator. She was a long-time principal at Oak Park's Longfellow School and then served as superintendent of schools for Oak Brook. She currently serves on the Hepzibah Education Advisory Board, and has volunteered her services to 10 other educational advocacy groups. Walter "Wally" Bloch is a retired executive with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance who has volunteered with the Oak Park Housing Center for 15 years, and has helped build 36 housing units with Habitat for Humanity. In addition, for the past 10 years he has been a volunteer at Camp Horizons, a summer camp for handicapped adults.
Asked to comment on his and Mardy's accomplishments Tuesday, Wally repeatedly turned the focus to other people and groups he said they feel honored to serve. He clearly relished talking about one project after another, reviewing programs as local as purchasing defibrillators for River Forest universities to working with developmentally disabled adults to buying beds for a boarding school in Ghana. Additionally, the Blochs support and serve a wide array of cultural and spiritual endeavors throughout the area.
Asked what he and his wife will say to their audience April 1, Bloch excused himself and went off to retrieve an autographed copy of "Up There With the Big Boys," authored by his friend and mentor Cliff Johnson, who died recently.
"We'll probably talk up Concordia," said Bloch upon his return. "And we'll talk up giving."
But mostly, Bloch said, he and Mardy want to turn people's attention to a rich tradition of giving and service that they say started long before they came and that they hope will continue long after they're gone. That, he said, is at the heart of what he and Mardy are about.
"You both care, and you share," Wally read from the hand written dedication Johnson wrote above his autograph. That sentiment, said Wally, encapsulates both his and his wife's philosophy of service.
"We're getting this award," he said. "But we're sharing it with this wonderful tradition of sharing in Oak Park and River Forest and Forest Park."