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College of Arts and Humanities

Reluctant Treasure

Dr. Peter Gries, Professor Emeritus

Arts commission honors Peter Gries

By PAT MUIR. Ellensburg Daily Record, April 3, 2003

Surely there must be someone more deserving - that's what Peter Gries thought when he learned he had been named City Arts Treasure by the Ellensburg Arts Commission.

Gries, chairman of Central Washington University's music department, said he didn't understand how he had been selected for the honor, which is given annually to someone who has contributed to the local arts scene.

"I used to do an awful lot in the community, direct high school musicals, direct summer plays. So I used to do a lot of that," he said. "But since I became chair of the music department, I've been there 12 hours a day."

Gries became chairman of the music department in 1999, but before that he had been involved in music and theater in the community for 25 years. So maybe this honor is kind of a lifetime achievement award, he said.

"In that sense, I guess it's OK," Gries conceded. "That's the only excuse I can think of."

Oh, there's another thing, too.

Peter's wife, Peggy Gries, is also a CWU music instructor. Like Peter - at least before he became chairman of the department - she is active in the community. For Christmas 1988 she organized Lessons and Carols at Grace Episcopal Church, an event she has reprised each year since then.

"You might say I was significant in supporting arts in the community by marrying my wife and bringing her here," he said.

That's modesty talking, though. In addition to his work at Central, which itself has contributed to the local arts scene, Gries has coordinated community concerts, acted in Laughing Horse Theater productions and helped with Central theater productions.

"I played a role in the musical arts in this community for almost 30 years," he said. But since taking over the top spot at the CWU department, "I've just had no time to be active in the community as much as in previous years."

In nominating him for the honor, Becky Craig, president of the Laughing Horse Arts Foundation, wrote a letter including praise from several local arts supporters.

"His community work is excellent. So He has also been instrumental in bringing outside arts groups to the valley," wrote Jim Hawkins, the CWU professor and world-renowned puppet maker who was City Arts Treasure last year.

CWU music professor Hal Ott wrote that Gries had contributed far beyond the scope of his job at Central.

"He has made this community a better place to live," Ott wrote.

Cathy Gibb, who herself often participates in local musical theater productions, wrote that Gries is more than qualified for the award.

"Peter is the type of Renaissance man that exemplifies this award," she wrote. "He spends so much of his time encouraging others in the arts as well as participating in artistic endeavors himself that the award would be well-deserved."

Gries said he has attended previous City Art Treasure receptions, but never expected to be so honored himself. Now that he has been, it's still hard for him to believe, he said.

That's not to say he doesn't appreciate it.

"I'm really touched by the award," he said. "It really is quite an honor."

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