And the winner is ... the Sigels!

How fitting that the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut should honor Steve and Jeanne Sigel with the William Crawford Distinguished Service Award and how appropriate that the chamber take the unusual step of recognizing them as a team.

The chamber presents the Crawford Award annually to an outstanding member of the community who has contributed to the quality of life in our region. The Sigels, working together to lead the Garde Arts Center in New London, have certainly contributed to the region's quality of life. They have done it together - Steve in his capacity as executive director, Jeanne in charge of marketing - so on this occasion it is more than suitable to pluralize the honor and recognize these two outstanding members of our community.

Tonight the Sigels, more accustomed to providing a stage for others, receive the spotlight when they accept the Crawford Award and the plaudits of their community during ceremonies at the Mystic Marriott.

Steve Sigel arrived in 1988 and played the central role in the drama that was the successful revitalization of the Garde. A $15 million renovation in the 1990s recaptured the grandeur of the vaudeville theater that first opened in 1926. Any great production needs a co-star and romance. Jeanne Sigel provided it by collaborating with Steve in running the Garde. In the process came love. Who wrote this script?

With the good humor and dry wit of these two, the ongoing show also has a touch of the romantic comedy. Expect some examples tonight.

Theirs is unquestionably a labor of love. In large part due to their efforts, the Garde is home to the performances of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. It hosts touring verions of Broadway musicals, dance troupes, amateur competitions, children's performances, concerts and even the occasional political debate.

Annually the New London Winter Film Festival features quality movies on its large screen after they complete their initial runs at the unimaginative movieplexes. The Garde provides a classic setting for a great movie.

The Sigels never stop innovating. The smaller Oasis Room at the Garde Arts Center hosts jazz performers and others musical acts more suited to an intimate setting.

Soon Steve and Jeanne will be much involved in another exciting challenge, working to incorporate the Garde as a performing arts component in the conversion of New London Public Schools into an all-magnet-schools district.

Performances at the Garde pull southeastern Connecticut's diverse community together. It enriches the lives of the people who live here. The crowds it attracts help drive New London's varied and growing restaurant scene. Its outreach efforts expose students from across the region to the performing arts. Its many volunteers enjoy a sense of accomplishment and inclusion as they provide a service to the theater's audiences. Soon the Garde will play a part in what could become a public education rebirth in New London.

In the middle of it all are the Sigels, their diligent efforts, creativity and optimism fueling the continuing growth of this vital asset.

The Day joins with the community in congratulating Steve and Jeanne Sigel in receiving this most deserved of honors.

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