The last time Linda Orton attended the senior awards assembly at Stadium High School was 1963, and she had a good reason. She was a senior that year.
Wednesday night, she’s headed back as something of an inspiration to the seniors of 2014 — the winner of the annual Dale Chihuly Award.
It will put her in good company. Given since 2000 to graduates of both Stadium and Wilson High School, the Chihuly plaque goes to alumni who’ve made a difference in their communities. Winners include a mayor and a judge, a Navy admiral, a former Seattle Seahawk and a columnist.
“I think it helps instill the desire to give back, not just money, but with time and talent — like Dale has,” said Nola Tresslar, a member of Stadium’s class of 1959.
Why was it named for Chihuly, the acclaimed glass artist — and why is it given to alumni of both Stadium and Wilson?
Its history goes back to the graduating classes from both high schools in ’59. While many high schools give alumni awards, not many have a shared origin like this one.
“We went to school as sophomores and juniors at Stadium High School, then they finished (building) Wilson High School at the end of our junior year,” Tresslar said. “They split our senior class 50-50, and sent half of us to Wilson.
“Dale was with us at Stadium and was sent to Wilson. He tried to use his grandmother’s address so he could stay at Stadium, but they sent him to Wilson.”
Ever since, the classes of ’59 have combined their reunions.
As the 40th reunion approached, a small group from both schools decided they should give an award in Chihuly’s honor. All they needed was the money to purchase a plaque for each school and for the two plaques to be given to winners each year.
Chihuly came through.
“Dale gave us a beautiful piece of glass that we auctioned at the reunion,” Tresslar said. “That gave us enough to fund the award for 20 years.”
The first awards were given in 2000, and the winner at the Wilson and Stadium High School senior assembly that year was one and the same — Chihuly.
Today, school administrations decide on the award winners. Wilson Principal Dan Besett has been part of the process for 10 years.
“We look for an alum who’s done some great things in the community through their job, their service, whatever,” Besett said. “I get nominations from the people who have reunions. I pick their brains. And then, I just know about certain people.
“This year, our award went to Phil Carter, one of the greatest football players to walk out of Wilson, and a man who’s done some great things in our community.”
Carter, an executive director with the YMCA, couldn’t have been more surprised to win the Chihuly Award.
“I did not know about it,” said Carter, who graduated from Wilson in 1979. “They called and asked if I would come by last week and accept it at the assembly, and I was delighted.
“When I saw the list of those who’d won it before, there were some great people on it.”
Carter was nominated because of his work above and beyond his duties at the YMCA, such as helping launch the Late Nite program at most Pierce County YMCAs.
That program opens the YMCAs to teenagers from 9:30-11:30 p.m., giving them a safe place to hang out with friends. Carter not only helped establish it, he then went to restaurants asking for food the kids could eat.
Orton, who will be honored Wednesday night, tried to talk a good friend out of putting her name into nomination.
“I’m a retired optician, and I’ve volunteered at Stadium for years,” she said. “There are so many wonderful people who give of themselves, I’d have been just as happy to quietly stay in the background.
“I helped during Stadium’s centennial celebration in 2006, and have done what I could when they need something.”
Principal Kevin Ikeda said Orton earned her Chihuly.
“She’s been a major player helping us redo display cases, get our yearbooks in order, and she’s always there when something is needed,” Ikeda said.
“Our students understand the issues in the world and community, and how actions beyond school affect them. There’s a sense of pride being a Stadium grad, and seeing this award given reinforces it.”
CHIHULY AWARD WINNERS
Stadium / Wilson
2000Dale Chihuly / Dale Chihuly
2001Michelle Everson / Brian Sonntag
2002Bill Baarsma / Dr. Bill Parker
2003Peter Callaghan / Kathryn J. Nelson
2004Pati Lynn / Paul Apostle
2005Stan Farber / Marcus Trufant
2006Tony Milan / Ron Lunceford
2007Marv Shain / Rick Carr
2008Ed Raisi / Bill Wesolowski
2009Lynn Raisi / Mike Duppenthaler
2010Chuck Richards / Trudy Peart
2011Eric Olson / Sue Linden
2012Dennis Flannigan / Jeanette Chantler
2013Dominick Federico / Karen Vialle
2014Linda Orton / Phil Carter
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638