Celebrity impersonator Rich Little and Judy Stewart, daughter of film star Jimmy Stewart, entertained Saturday evening at the Rustic Lodge with humorous anecdotes about Indiana’s favorite son and his show business friends during his 60-year career in acting.
Little and Stewart then presented this year’s George Bailey Awards from the Jimmy Stewart Museum’s directors to well-known Indiana community figures Carson Greene Jr. and Carl Kologie and to The Indiana County Tourist Bureau.
The museum foundation’s directors created the Bailey Award to honor good friends of the museum who have touched the lives of others through their actions and the examples they set. The George Bailey Award complements the museum’s Harvey Award, which recognizes achievement in entertainment.
“Last night was wonderful,” Judy Stewart told the audience, referring to the role she and Little played as grand marshals in Indiana’s “It’s A Wonderful Life Festival” parade Friday evening.
“I think of this place as my second home,” Little said of Indiana. “Jimmy was so humble a guy. … I don’t think he realized how many people loved him.”
Little recounted for the audience that he was a fill-in host for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” during a Christmas season in the 1970s. He requested that Stewart be on the show and Stewart agreed to the guest appearance. But then Stewart telephoned Little at his home and explained he would not be able to be on the show after all because he wanted to attend a Christmas party his wife, Gloria, was having. Little impersonated Stewart while the two men talked on the phone, and accepted Stewart’s explanation that being with his family at Christmas was more important to him than being on TV.
“I was so privileged to be involved with those greats,” Little said of his early career as an impersonator working with Stewart, Carson, George Burns, Jack Benny and Dean Martin. “Those were great days.”
Little said he’s still doing his “Jimmy Stewart and Friends” play and still hopes to take it to Broadway.
He urged the audience to keep backing the Jimmy Stewart Museum.
“We’ve got to keep this museum open. … It is important to keep his name going. You’ve got my support.”
At the conclusion of the awards program, the museum directors surprised Little with a birthday cake. He’ll turn 75 on Tuesday.
Award recipients Greene and Kologie are longtime museum board members.
“It’s a very humbling experience. But I like it,” Greene said of his award, adding he wanted to dedicate it to the many people who helped establish the museum and have since passed away.
Greene has held a broad range of civic and business leadership positions, including serving as president of the museum board for three terms and is now the secretary of the board.
He retired from Pennsylvania American Water Co. after 33 years, then went on to serve as a senior vice president at First Commonwealth Bank for 11 years. He also served as chairman of the board of Indiana Regional Medical Center, was a past president and is now the vice president of the Indiana County Development Corporation. He was also a past chairman of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce and a past member of the board of the Indiana County Endowment, a fund started with a $500,000 gift from the estate of Jimmy Stewart.
He was named the Indiana County Civic Leader of the Year in 1986.
“I am truly honored,” Kologie said after accepting his award. He thanked members of the media — some of whom are previous George Bailey Award recipients — for publicizing the museum’s need for financial support at a time when it was “within a whisker of closing the door.”
“Rich and Judy have been tremendous supporters,” Kologie said.
Kologie was managing editor of the Indiana Gazette for many years and continues to write a weekly column for the newspaper. He also served seven years on the museum foundation’s board of directors, with two terms as president, and is now the vice president.
He has also been both president and vice president of the United Way of Indiana County, and in 2007 he was named Indiana County Civic Leader of the Year.
He also served on American Red Cross disaster teams, was a founding member of the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame and was president more than 10 years. He sat on the boards of the Indiana Jaycees, the Indiana County Community Action Program, the Indiana County Conservation District, the Indiana County Tourist Bureau and the Indiana County Parks and Recreation Commission.
The Indiana County Tourist Bureau, this year’s third recipient of a George Bailey Award, is the official tourism promotion agency for Indiana County and recently marked its 50th anniversary. The bureau’s mission is to enhance and promote the economic and aesthetic well-being of the county through tourism promotion and the comprehensive marketing of the county, and is credited with bringing thousands of visitors to Indiana County.
Jimmy Stewart never saw the museum opened in his honor in 1995. It now welcomes about 6,000 visitors annually.