This article originally appeared in the Courier-News.
By JANELLE WALKER For Sun-Times Media
BARTLETT — The Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award recognizes those in Illinois communities who help promote all areas of the humanities — art, music, theater, history and more.
For the village of Bartlett, that promoter is Rita Lopienski.
The community life manager at Bartlett’s Victory Centre, a senior living facility, Lopienski was nominated for the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award by Village President Michael Kelly.
She was one of 44 individuals or groups who won the biannual award. Presented by the Illinois Humanities Council, it notes her work with area youth and her promotion of music and history in the village.
For Lopienski, the award is a note of recognition for the many things she does in her community.
A music therapist, Lopienski said, “I had heard of (the award) in the past, but I never thought about it being presented to me. It was a lovely surprise and honor.”
She formally was awarded the medal Dec. 1 at a Bartlett Village Board meeting. According to the Illinois Humanities Council, the award is “struck in solid bronze by … the company that makes both the Pulitzer Prize and the Peabody Award — and engraved with the names of the recipients and their communities.”
One of Lopienski’s hobbies that she shares with residents at Victory Centre and other community groups is drumming circles. During her travels around the globe, she’s amassed a collection of percussion instruments and drums from Asian, African, South American, Caribbean and Native American cultures. She presents the circles not only at Victory Centre, but with students from Elgin School District U46.
“Listen to the rhythm of the drumbeats in one of Rita Lopienski’s drumming circles, and you’ll hear the echoes of other cultures and the histories of ancient peoples,” Kelly wrote in her nomination.
Travel is one of her passions, Lopienski said. This spring, she plans to join the Bartlett International Chorus, which she helped found, and the Chinese Fine Arts Society Hakka Chorus in a musical tour of Taiwan.
Hakka, she explained, is the native language in Taiwan, and the songs they are planning to perform during the tour are sung in that language.
“It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Lopienski said of the upcoming trip.
While logistics are still being worked out, she said, it is another example of how the humanities can help to connect two cultures.
In addition to her drumming and music, Lopienski also has volunteered her time and talent as an actress to the Bartlett History Museum. She was in the production of “HerStory” at the museum that won a state award.
She also played roles for two “Legend of Hawk Hallow” readings, a Centennial Elementary School celebration, Bartlett Woman’s Club history presentation and several President Abraham Lincoln programs all sponsored by the Bartlett History Museum, Lopienski said.
Working in the community in the arts is a way for people to get involved while doing something she enjoys, she said.
“Just getting involved is a way to meet people and make new friends,” she said. “If you have a personal interest, you have more meaning. It is a way to connect and network, a way to give back to your community.”