By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Quincy Society of Fine Arts threw a birthday party gala Friday night complete with a toast to its founder and first president George Irwin.
"We need to raise our glasses to the man who founded this 65 years ago, the godfather of Quincy arts," said Jeff Spear, the master of ceremonies for the event.
Irwin asked people to raise their glasses again -- this time to celebrate the arts.
"The arts were important in a small community like Quincy," Irwin said.
That was true in 1947 when QSFA was founded and still today as the organization continues efforts toward its mission to foster, strengthen and expand the language, visual and performing arts in Adams County.
Marking an anniversary provided "an opportunity to recognize George Irwin for his contribution to the arts in Quincy and the legacy that carries on in every level of the community from elementary school and high school all the way to community programs and community arts organizations," said Tim Koontz, the 13th QSFA president. "One of the things that makes Quincy so special is the arts influence that we have. That's what it's really about, celebrating a community that's so rich in the arts."
The first arts council in the nation, QSFA was designed to bring together the community's arts organizations.
It marked its 65th anniversary with 65 member organizations from the All Wars Museum to WQUB and the gala, held at the Town and Country Inn and Suites, to reflect on its past and focus on the future with entertainment by young performers.
"QSFA has been here a long time and done a lot of good things," said Lynda Happel. "As a retired teacher, I feel what it does for children, to me, is the biggest thing. It supports their academic growth."
Julie Regner knows firsthand what QSFA means to young people as she listened to her son Patrick perform a song from the Quincy Community Theater Production of "Wanda's World."
"My sons all have been greatly touched by the arts in Quincy. I'll always be grateful," she said.
An overflowing crowd showed its gratitude to the organization's 16 presidents -- Irwin, who served for more than 30 years, Jeanette Bitter, W. Kirby Eber, Barbara Gates Gerdes, Randy McFarland, Peter A. (Tony) Oakley, John J. Flynn, Jr., William O. Mays, Chris Daniels, Robert Brown, Harry Ruth, Chris Scholz, Koontz, Harold B. (Hal) Oakley, Laura Kent Donahue and Joe Bocke.
"They represent a variety of backgrounds, but they all have one common attribute and that's a passion for the fine arts in Quincy, Ill.," said Spear in leading the salute to the past presidents. "There is no better arts community in the U.S. than here in Quincy, and we all can be proud of that."
In Quincy, the arts are a $3 million a year growth industry that creates jobs, stimulates every part of the local economy, increases the number of visitors and attracts thousands of new dollars to the local economy from national foundations and corporations. QSFA's own grants program funds efforts such as Arts=Education and Art$ Dollar$, which support member organizations and arts education in schools across the county.