About the Symphony Orchestra Guild of Decatur

A 501(3)c nonprofit organization

Our mission is to support the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra, provide educational opportunities for our youth and adults, and grant student scholarships for musical opportunities. Above all, our mission is to inspire a love for the symphony in Decatur and beyond.

symphony orchestra musician

SOGD – Our Story

Celebrating our 50th Anniversary, 1974-2024

The first recorded mention of a Millikin Symphony appeared in the 1906 Millikin Yearbook showing six members. By 1907 there were 24 members – it was a fast growing group!

In 1914, a Decatur Symphony was formed and had 58 musicians from Decatur playing in it. This group was short lived and disbanded in 1917. In 1926, a reorganization took place with primarily the out-of-work “pit” musicians from the silent movies forming an orchestra. Because of a change in conductors that wasn’t popular with the players, this group also disbanded.

Finally, in 1947, the Millikin-Decatur Symphony came into being with a mixture of students and faculty from Millikin playing alongside musicians from Decatur and the surrounding area. Several conductors came and went during the following years.

Dr. Ronald Gregory came in 1973, and under his encouragement and in the interest in several townspeople, the Symphony Guild was formed in 1974.

Membership in the first Guild was 400. It hovered around this figure for many years. Current membership is around 200.


When I go to the symphony, I sense the drama as the conductor does this dance of motion to pull out the soothing strings of the violins, the booming brass section or the thumping percussion. For these moments, I am taken out of my everyday life into something bigger, sweeping, and beautiful.

–Heidi J. Sack, VP of Audience Development

Guild Fundraisers

Fundraisers Make It Happen

The Guild has a rich history of fundraising events, including balls, luncheons, and auctions. In 1976, we received the vote from the American Symphony League for the Best Fundraising Event in the country, which was quite an honor for just a young organization!

To open the new Decatur Civic Center, the Guild held “Winter Prelude,” an elegant gala as the first event in this new facility. The gala was also recognized by the American Symphony League.

There have been Cooking Schools, Pops on the Lake Concerts, selling advertising space in the yearly Concert Program, Symphony of Trees that had a 20-year run, the Symphony Holiday Ball, a Spring Bulb Sale, Spring Style Shows, and – of course – our yearly Guild Memberships.

From Symphony Balls in the 70s to the Symphony Holiday Ball of today, fundraisers keep the Guild alive.

Board of Directors

Mark Sorenson

Mark Sorenson



Officers of the Board


Heidi Sack, Vice President of Audience Development

Kathy Brown, Vice President of Funds Development

Jo Carter, Vice President of Guild Development

Dr. Priscilla Palmer, Vice President of Music Education

Ruth Cortright, Secretary

Linda Arends – Assistant Secretary

Dr. Jan Mandernach –  Past President

Shirley Swarthout, Treasurer

Brian Justison, Director, School of Music

Nick Phipps, Auditor

Dr. William McClain, MDSO Conductor

Neal Smith, DYSO Conductor

Other Board Members


John Baird

Ashley Batchelder

Susan Danco

John Daum

Carmen Dunn

Marla Ewers

Bethany Force

Louis Kappler

Maureen McDorman

Elizabeth Merrill

Kamaria Perry

Peggy Ruff

Wayne Rutherford

Dr. Christina Shields

Rick Strine

Jennifer Toney