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Good evening everyone, congratulations to the raffle winners, and thank you all for coming out tonight, for making an evening at City Hall, with so much going on all around us. We’re so glad you’re here.

I hope you are enjoying the refreshments and have had some fun with the activities!  Thanks to the fabulous folks at WonderLab, Monroe County History Center and Cardinal Stage for tickling our imaginations and nourishing our curiosity -- today and every day! Thanks also to the Bicentennial Committee, previously named, for having organized tonight’s festivities. [25 yrs]

Let’s also salute some special volunteers tonight--more than 50 community members read for more than 200 hours to our young people, in a Bicentennial collaboration among the City of Bloomington Commission on the Status of Black Males, United Way of Monroe County and the Monroe County Community School Corporation Foundation.  Some volunteer readers are here tonight--let’s give them a hand!

And most of all thanks to all of you, Bloomington folks, for showing up--yes tonight, but also for showing up every day, to make our city the vibrant, kind, and productive place it is. The work the people of Bloomington do, the values brought to daily life in this community, these are the primary reasons Bloomington is such a gem of a city.  

Of course tonight is a special night, not only as New Year’s Eve, when we look back on 2018, and usher in the hopes for 2019, but this evening is special as we wrap up Bloomington’s (and Monroe County’s) Bicentennial year with a celebration, and our looking back over 200 years of striving and thriving and progressing with some special events--

--maybe you joined us on Kirkwood for our Bicentennial Street Party in April?

--did you make it to the new Downtown Fireworks for the Fourth of July!

--Maybe you planted one of our Bicentennial Tulip Poplars in your yard or a school yard, or Biked in the BikeCentennial in June, or ran in the Bicentennial Veterans’ Day Run/Ruck at RCA Park?  

We celebrated history during our Bicentennial Year, and we were busy as well working toward the future:

--After decades of planning, we broke ground on Switchyard Park, the City’s most ambitious park project ever, with opening scheduled for late 2019

--Another transformation occurred when another Showers factory building (like this one) was revived as The Mill, a fantastic small business incubator and co-working space, with great partners from IU to Cook to Columbus and more, to help propel our economy in our third century.

--Or we could talk about the expansion planned for our decades-old convention center; or the exciting opportunity of 24 acres to be re-imagined when the current hospital vacates its site

--Or lastly, I’m so proud that our community is making a Bicentennial gift to future generations. The Bloomington we cherish today is a result of many, many contributions made over the years by our forebears, and we’re doing our part for future Bloomingtonians, with our Bicentennial Bonds, $10 million to build seven new miles of trails and greenways, to plant 1,400 street trees, to activate downtown alleys and enhance several new gateways to the city. It’s not too late to buy a bond yourself!

When it comes to those who’ve made significant contributions to our city, there has certainly been no shortage over the last two hundred years! You can read about some of them on those placards on the wall beside the staircase, people who have shaped this city in profound ways. Tonight, we recognize one of them with a brand new Bloomington Award. A new award you say?! Yes, as we move into the third century of our fair city, we’re launching tonight a new annual award -- and we went to history to find it.

The “Freedom of the City” award dates all the way back to ancient Rome, and since medieval times has been a way municipalities have honored particularly valued members of the community. It is the precursor to a Key to a City. It was an award of privileges for a person or group to have Freedom within a city. Military units that normally were not allowed to march or move freely were, if specially trusted by a city, given Freedom of the City for a day of parade or more generally. Individuals could be released from serfdom with a Freedom of the City award. And throughout history, individuals held in special esteem in a city were awarded the honor to indicate Freedom of movement, of welcome, and of privilege. And sometimes very specific privileges!

In London, for example, which first recorded a Freedom of the City award in the year 1237, those awarded the honor have the right to herd their sheep across London Bridge toll free, to bear swords openly, to carry out a trade or craft downtown, and to be sent home by taxi rather than to jail if found inebriated. London’s recipients include Florence Nightingale, Nelson Mandela and Lord Nelson, Princess Diana and JK Rowling.  [More than] enough about history. For our Bicentennial, we are establishing a Freedom of the City of Bloomington award, to honor very special friends of Bloomington, and it’s time to bestow it. We are very fortunate to have such a worthy recipient with us tonight, who undoubtedly deserves the honor of Freedom of the City of Bloomington.

Gayle Cook is a life-changing and community-changing leader and entrepreneur whose efforts throughout the past more-than-five-decades have enhanced our city immeasurably, and helped establish Bloomington as a center of the global biomedical industry. Together with her late husband Bill, Gayle also dedicated herself both to the ever-changing vitality of our city, and to the preservation of the history of our community, this community she calls home, through the restoration of so many downtown Bloomington buildings, the support of the Monroe County History Center and much, much more. Some of you might be surprised to know that while accomplishing big goals, Gayle has also kept her hand in the details, quite literally -- cleaning and sorting the donated jewelry for the annual history center sale, and personally painting ceramic tiles for several of the many landmarks she has saved.  

It was a daunting task adequately to express our gratitude for Gayle’s tremendous leadership and generosity. We had to get creative. Gayle’s own keen appreciation for history helped inspire us to create the Freedom of the City Award, and to name her the first ever recipient of the award. Gayle we don’t know of plans to drive sheep across our bridges, or wear swords openly, but we do know that we all hope you will long continue to walk our pathways, to share our community, and to imagine and enhance our future. And so we hereby, this last day of our Bicentennial Year of 2018, bestow upon you, for exceptional service promoting, protecting and preserving the City of Bloomington, Indiana, the Freedom of the City of Bloomington award. Ladies and Gentlemen, Gayle Cook.

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