(This interview originally published in our May 2016 issue of our quarterly newsletter, The Arch.)
Board member Shelley Gorson is one of nine board members reaching their “sunset year” in June; that is, a mandatory year off from board service between six-year terms. In her 13 years as a volunteer, Shelley has served as a board member, event, committee, and board chair, and organizational visionary. We sat down with her to ask her about her experience. Read the full interview at www.Landmarks.org, especially Shelley’s list of her favorite historic places.
Landmarks Illinois: How and why did you begin volunteering with Landmarks Illinois (LI)?
Shelley Gorson: As a recent transplant from Miami in 2002, and just retired from real estate sales, I needed a new direction and decided that the most compelling aspect of Chicago for me was the architecture. I enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master’s program in Historic Preservation and met Richard Friedman, who was my preservation law professor. He recruited me to the board of LI, and I immediately felt like I had found my second “career”.
LI: Is there a program or project that you are most proud of?
SG: To be honest, I am proud of everything I was able to accomplish—all of them with the continuous and strong support of the board and staff and my wonderful husband! If I had to pick, they would be: hiring Bonnie McDonald, a true game-changing president; spearheading the Legendary Landmarks Celebration as a new fundraiser; cultivating a cohesive, dedicated and diverse Board of Directors; launching the Skyline Council to engage young professionals; and creating a vision for our new Emeritus Board, which I will chair, to re-engage past board members.
LI: You coined an important phrase for LI’s work: beyond the beautiful building. What did you mean when you coined this phrase?
SG: When I joined LI in 2003, the organization’s focus was to save – and help others save and reutilize –historic buildings. This will always be our core work because we believe that our quality of life is enhanced by beautiful buildings. But the preservation movement has progressed to become one which broadens our impact at the neighborhood and community level to advance the social and economic good. For instance, we are partnering with organizations outside of preservation to leverage our experience to help homeowners in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. With partner Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), we are creating a Neighborhood Conservation District Ordinance to hopefully be adopted by the City of Chicago, helping homeowners to preserve community character and design better infill development.
LI: What advice would you give to others in inspiring people to support our organization and our cause?
SG: We all encounter historic places many times a day as we going about our busy lives: where we work, eat, worship, live and play. We don’t want to lose these places that are part of our collective DNA, our cultural heritage. We want to encourage the political and economic forces that support historic preservation as a powerful force to revitalize our urban areas and build civic pride. LI is one of the most important organizations in the country doing this work, so when people learn about it, I find they just automatically want to help and get involved. It “sells” itself!