Contact: Jeff Kohmstedt, Prairie Rivers Network,, 217-344-2371 ext. 207

CHAMPAIGN, IL – Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) will honor three Champaign-Urbana area members as Volunteers of the Year and two Naperville teachers with River Steward Awards at its 50th anniversary gala. The event will take place on October 6th at the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First Street, Champaign, Illinois.

PRN culminates its 50th year celebrations with a ceremony honoring this year’s Volunteer of the Year award winners. Champaign area’s Latrelle Bright, Amy Hassinger, and Kate McDowell all helped PRN tell the story of its 50 year history. Latrelle Bright and Amy Hassinger helped with the initial planning and preparation for the PRN Day at Allerton event which took place in May. Bright produced and performed The Water Project and helped interview PRN’s founders for a video highlighting their lifelong stewardship. Hassinger read from her novel After the Dam and has done voiceover work for PRN videos celebrating PRN’s 50 years of stewardship. Kate McDowell helped PRN tell its stories this year and into the future.

“Latrelle, Amy, and Kate have each helped us show the great works that our founders, members, and other river advocates have done in protecting the water, rivers, and wildlife of Illinois,” PRN Executive Director Carol Hays said.

PRN will also award River Steward Awards to Naperville high school teachers Seth Brady and Randy Smith. The two were instrumental in this year’s first annual Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week which took place September 11th through the 16th. They worked tirelessly to encourage students and communities across the state to work together to clean up community waterways. Scores of students took part in the activities. These teachers’ efforts led to an Illinois General Assembly resolution designating the Cleanup Week.

“Seth and Randy went above and beyond regular expectations for what teachers do,” Hays said. “They helped students all across Illinois get involved in the environmental movement with the first Illinois Waterway Cleanup Week and learn how to protect their local watersheds. Their tireless dedication is something to celebrate. Their work will impact students for years to come.”

The gala event will be emceed by Rob Kanter, PRN board member and “Environmental Almanac” columnist, who will share stories of conservation stewardship throughout PRN’s 50 year history.

Fifty years ago Patricia Hannon hiked through Allerton Park in Monticello and became outraged when she learned that the Army Corps of Engineers planned to build a dam that would have flooded this natural treasure. Together with her husband, Bruce, and many volunteers, they took up the battle to “stop the dam” and save Allerton. They collected over 20,000 petition signatures and fought a battle that lasted eight years. Ultimately, they won, saved Allerton Park, and began a movement.

“Protecting Illinois rivers, water, and wildlife depends on people who love a place taking a stand to protect it,” Hays said. “PRN was founded by activists who saw a threat to our environment and who were called to action. Allerton Park and the work of river stewards through the decades are at the core of the successes we have had. Without those founding activists, Illinois would be a very different place.”

Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) is Illinois’ advocate for clean water and healthy rivers and is the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. PRN advocates for cultural values, policies and practices that sustain the ecological health and biological diversity of Illinois’ water resources and aquatic ecosystems. It is a member-supported, nonprofit organization that champions clean, healthy rivers and lakes and safe drinking water to benefit the people and wildlife of Illinois.