While Harry Blizzard was not born or raised in Elgin, he has enthusiastically claimed the city as home over the last half-century -- much to the benefit of several Elgin institutions.
Blizzard, 84, grew up in a small town in Iowa, went to school for civil engineering and ended up in Indiana working on the toll road in the 1950s. Once work finished up, his boss sent him to Illinois where the toll road here was getting started.
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"I took out a map and said it looks like Elgin's just about the center of everything," Blizzard remembered.
His decision to move to the growing town brought him a career's worth of work, a wife of more than 50 years and four children -- and it brought Elgin a community leader who would go on to be a founding board member of Elgin Community College and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
With ECC, Blizzard said college administration was "quite a ways" from his education in civil engineering, but running for the elected position would be a way to broaden his interests and help the community.
"ECC was, I thought, the new wave of education and I wanted to be involved if I could," Blizzard said. He kept the position for 12 years.
With the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Blizzard's connection went a little further back.
As a young Army soldier stationed in Minnesota, Blizzard got free tickets to the Minneapolis Symphony with a couple other GIs. Blizzard said he knew nothing about music at the time but was smart enough to see that conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos had talent.
"I never saw and have not seen since any individual that took over a group of 70 or 80 musicians and had them in his hand, so to speak," Blizzard said. "He was the most exciting thing I've ever seen."
Blizzard saw the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra perform four more times as a student at Iowa State College -- now Iowa State University -- with Mitropoulos at its head.
When Elgin Community College decided in 1981 to end its role as the financial backer of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Blizzard was one of a handful of people who rallied together to form a new ESO board.
Fundraising was far easier back then, when board members only needed to raise about $20,000.
"Each of us said I'll give a few thousand and the next thing you know our fundraising was done," Blizzard said. "It's a little different when your budget, at its highest, was $3 million."
The ESO has gone from an all-amateur to an all-professional organization with a budget that has grown to support its employees. It has become nationally known as a quality regional orchestra.
And Blizzard has been around for all of it.
He still serves on the board of directors and will be the guest of honor at an upcoming benefit concert to raise money for the symphony. The Blizzard Bash -- an 85th birthday celebration -- will start at 6 p.m. June 17 in the Blizzard Theater at ECC's Visual and Performing Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin. A reception and roast will be followed by a Father's Day Recital at 7:30 by father-son duo Rich and Brandon Ridenour, renowned pianist and trumpeter, respectively.
The world-class musicians will perform together for the first time in Elgin.
"You just don't get this kind of talent," Blizzard said. "Two people like them, to play at one time in a concert all by themselves. This is going to be a really great concert."
Tickets to the recital start at $30 and can be purchased at elginsymphony.org. Tickets for the roast and reception in addition to VIP seating for the show are $85.
For more information, call Julie Baker at (847) 888-0404 ext. 234.