The Journal-Standard, Jane Lethlean, Associated Press
In this photo taken March 21, 2012, Dr. Ed Finch, president of the Lincoln-Douglas Society, poses n Freeport, Ill., with a replica of an Abraham Lincoln mask, originally sculpted in 1860 by Leonard Wells Volk. This high-quality copy was presented to the local society last fall. It will be unveiled at a ceremony March 28 at the Freeport Public Library.

FREEPORT, Ill. — Last October, the local chapter of the Lincoln-Douglas Society received word they would be given the prestigious Leonard Wells Volk Award in recognition of the ongoing efforts to preserve and expand Debate Square in Freeport.

A small contingent of representatives from Freeport traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 18 to accept the award. Tim Connors, who often portrays Stephen A. Douglas, accepted the award for Freeport's Lincoln-Douglas Society.

Since that time, the award, a Lincoln mask, has been carefully protected in the case it was received, cared for at Freeport Public Library. It was decided by the society, this award would be presented to the community of Freeport, to be permanently on display at the library. A special case was ordered for the bronze mask of Abraham Lincoln. It is now ready to be unveiled and presented to the community.

Dr. Ed Finch, president of the Lincoln-Douglas Society, said this award is "a big deal" for Freeport.

This prestigious award has been given to only three other Lincoln sites — Ford's Theater, Washington, D.C.; Lincoln's Home National Historic Site, Springfield; and Lincoln's Cottage at Soldiers Home, Washington, D.C.

Finch said according to the Lincoln Forum, the Leonard W. Volk Award is presented only to "institutions and organizations that perpetuate the Lincoln story."

"We have been recognized for what has been done at Debate Square since the 1980s," Finch said. "Only 750 of these masks were made and we have number 24."

The original Lincoln life mask was created in 1860, just before Lincoln became president, by the famous sculptor Leonard Wells Volk. The high-quality copy is being presented by the Lincoln Forum, an organization of Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts.

Finch said the story of Volk creating the mask began with an invitation for Lincoln to go to Volk's studio in Chicago. This is a mask that has been copied over the years. Many of the copies were not made from the actual mask made in 1860. The official Volk Award is a bronze mask copied from the actual mask.

Finch said the Lincoln-Douglas Society was "blown away" when they received word of the award.

"This award belongs to the community of Freeport, for all their support of the improvements made to recognize Debate Square," Finch said. "The award does not belong to the society, but the people of this community, and it will be on permanent display at Freeport Public Library.

"The hard work and generous contributions of the people of Freeport over the past 20 years is being recognized with this award," he added.

Finch said he sees this as more of a presentation of the award, rather than an unveiling.

Finch said he hopes to extend his pride with this award at a ceremony to present the Volk Award to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, in the foyer of Freeport Public Library. The public is invited. There will be refreshments.

"The community should be proud of the dedication to help keep Debate Square alive — it's been a process over many years," Finch said.

Information from: The Journal-Standard,