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South Bend Area Genealogical Society

History of SBAGS Oak Tree Award By Bill Minish

Each year the South Bend Area Genealogical Society awards a sterling silver medallion to a Society member deemed worthy of it for their meritorious service toward our Society and its mission of furthering family history. Many members have not seen the medallion or know its history, so this article is an attempt to explain how the award came to be.

First what is it? It is a medallion about the size of a quarter, with bail for hanging attached. It has been cast in sterling silver for us for many years by custom jeweler John Mroczek. The obverse (front) has engraved the name of the recipient, “outstanding service” and the date awarded or the date for which the service is rec-ognized. Some discrepancies have occurred with those dates in past awards. i.e., between service year and year presented. The reverse or back face has our Society initials diagonally across the medallion.

The idea of an oak tree medallion relates to the early icon our Society chose in its letterheads, Quarterly Newsletter cover and other documents. The origin of this icon is lost in our Society history, but probably relates to the ancient Celtic symbolism of an oak tree as: life, strength, wisdom, nobility, family, loyalty, power, longevity, heritage, and honor. The oak tree symbol is common in most western civilizations. Our founding ladies chose this as a symbol for our Society and its future.

We believe the idea of presenting a medallion originated in 1978 a year prior to the first presentation. Who had the idea…..we don’t know. My suspicion is that it might well have been the very remarkable Jeanne Denham, our first President. It required imagination and some work with a jeweler to cast the medallion.

The first award was given to Fay Lies, in 1979 by then President Jeanne Denham. It was known as the “Working Member Award” its intent being to recognize outstanding service by a Society member and only Society members. The first use of the term “Oak Tree Award” appears to have been in the January 1982 Members Meeting agenda when member and founding lady Prudence Michael was awarded the medallion.

Since then we have presented the Oak Tree Award almost annually, occasionally missing a year. While we had a list of many recent recipients, much early award history was not known. So with Eric Craig’s help, he having easy access to all Society newsletters on his computer, we began investigating those early newsletters to identify, if we could, how it all began and who were all the recipients. The following list is our result and while still some gaps, it is the best history we have of the award. We found occasions where the date of the engraving, and the date when the Board recognized the service to be a year different. That usually occurred when the award was engraved and presented later in the year after the service recognized year.

We are proud of this unique award, its history, and the many members some now long gone, who gave so generously to our Society and we were able to recognize them with our Oak Tree Award.

Jeanne Denham, our first President, was the second Oak Tree recipient

Fay Lies was first recipient, Lauren Bostedt was third and Prudence Michael, fourth

As of November 2022

1978 Not Issued Probable origin year
1979 Fay Lies Spring 1981 newsletter
1980 Jeanne Denham Spring 1981
1981 Laureen Bostedt Spring 1982
1982 Prudence Michael Spring 1983
1983 Marie Hums Spring 1984
1984 Unknown  
1985 Unknown  
1986 Unknown  
1987 John Yuhasz July 1987 newsletter
1988 Francis Lies October 1996 newsletter
1989 Unknown  
1990 Ruth Price June 1990 newsletter
1991 Irv Morse October 1996
1992 Toni Cook Actual madallion
1993 Carol Collins Actual madallion
1994 Gene & Mary Kempner – (2) awards October 1996
1995 Jeanne Everett October 1996
1996 Irene Forbes April 1997 newsletter
1997 Unknown  
1998 Not Issued  
1999 Not Issued  
2000 John Palmer per SBAGS Board minutes
2001 Mark Davis
2002 Mary Waterson
2003 Not Issued  
2004 Arlene Martin
2005 Not Issued  
2006 Richard Ross
2007 Nancy Myers
2008 Bill Minish
2009 Mary Thornsen
2010 Jan Miller
2011 Not Issued  
2012 Barbara Weiler & Eric Craig Two awards (for 2011)
2013 Ken Reising per SBAGS Board minutes
2014 Jim Curtis
2015 Dave Eisen Special recognition to Dave
2016 Audrey Johnson April 2017 St. Joseph County Archives recognition
2017 James Piechorowski April 2018 Polish genealogy and family history databases recognition
2018 Vicky Rydzynski April 2019 St. Joseph County Archives & Records Center recognition
2019 Gary Gabrich March 2021 Special Recognition
2020 Alice Clark March 2022 Special Recognition
2021 Lisa Ellam March 2022 Special Recognition
2022 Lacey King March 2022 Special Recognition

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