Better Makers: Shedd Aquarium Annual Gala Raises $2 Million, Honors Founder’s Mission to Celebrate and Protect Aquatic Life

John Graves Shedd was a leader and philanthropist who left his mark on the great city of Chicago. Shedd rose though the ranks from store clerk to president of Marshall Field and Company.

Having great pride for his city, Shedd dreamed of Chicago having the finest aquarium in the country. With his initial donation of $2 million in 1924, the nonprofit organization Shedd Aquarium Society was formed “to construct, maintain, and operate an aquarium or museum of aquatic life exclusively for educational and scientific purposes.”

Shedd passed away during the planning process in 1926. The board of directors carried on, opening the John G. Shedd Aquarium to the public on May 30, 1930.

“The World’s Aquarium” has welcomed visitors from around the world for 89 years. Dedicated to public education, conservation, and sustainability, the Shedd is committed to the research and care of species worldwide.

On May 18, the Shedd Aquarium Society’s Board of Trustees hosted its black tie gala, Reflections. Co-Chairs Hilary and Lloyd Semple and Honorary Chair Marian Phelps Pawlick led this year’s festivities.

Nearly 631 Chicago philanthropists gathered at the Shedd Aquarium for the silver jubilee anniversary fête. The evening raised nearly $2 million in support of Shedd’s mission of sparking conservation, curiosity, and compassion for the aquatic world.

Shedd Aquarium Gala: Caribbean Reef Rotunda
Shedd Aquarium’s Caribbean Reef rotunda decorated by Revel Décor Inc. (© Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez)

“This is more than just a fundraiser; it’s a celebration of our founder’s inspired vision to bring the world to Chicago, married with today’s vision of a world thriving with aquatic life, sustained by people who love, understand, and protect it,” said Dr. Bridget Coughlin, Shedd president and CEO.

Immersed in a world of sea life, guests were set free to discover the great depths of the aquatic exploratorium. Popular destinations of the evening included the Wild Reef; the newest exhibit, Underwater Beauty, presented by Citadel; the dance floor with music from True Blue Band; and the jazz lounge with the William Boris Trio.

Guests enjoyed a special aquatic presentation of “Tomorrow Starts Tonight,” featuring California sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins, green-winged macaws, and more. Local music group Musicality kicked off the show followed by remarks from Dr. Coughlin and the Semples.

Shedd Aquarium Gala: Aquatic Presentation
Scarlet macaws take flight during a stunning and delightful aquatic presentation. (© Shedd Aquarium/Eva Ho)

A successful paddle raise auction followed in support of the Shedd’s marine and freshwater research, and animal rescue and accessibility efforts around the world.

Attendees then filtered to the main galleries to enjoy an ocean-themed, sustainably sourced meal, donated in part by Sodexo.

Reflections was presented by GATX and supported by sponsors AbbVie, Bank of America, and more.

Shedd Aquarium Gala: Bridget Coughlin and Marian Phelps Pawlick
Shedd President and CEO Bridget Coughlin, PhD, and Honorary Chair Marian Phelps Pawlick (© Shedd Aquarium/Eva Ho)
Shedd Aquarium Gala: Brian Kenney, Kristin Kenney, Hilary Semple, and Lloyd Semple
Shedd Aquarium Board Chairman Brian Kenney and wife Kristin Kenney and Shedd Gala Co-Chairs Hilary and Trustee Lloyd Semple (© Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger)
Shedd Aquarium Gala: Jay Miller, Lisa Miller, and John Hesselmann
Trustee Jay Miller and wife Lisa Miller and Trustee John Hesselmann (© Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger)
Shedd Aquarium Gala: GATX
The black-tie gala, Reflections, was presented by GATX. (© Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger)
Shedd Aquarium: Alex Singla and Parita Singla
Shedd Aquarium Trustee Alex Singla and wife Parita Singla look nature in the eye by learning more about a red footed tortoise. (© Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez)
Shedd Aquarium: Keep Sharks Swimming
Impact: Shedd’s annual gala helps support the aquarium’s conservation research work like studying sharks in The Bahamas to understand what these predators need to thrive since they are vital to maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems but are under threat of extinction from overfishing and other human impacts. Learn more on how to take action and Keep Sharks Swimming: sheddaquarium.org/keepsharksswimming (Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium.)

Emily Stone earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work has been published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.