The William & Jean Knaack Spirit of Avenues Award is given to individuals who are passionate about Avenues and the ideal of putting aside old ideas about what is possible. The volunteer, donor, family or staff member embraces all that Avenues stands for and provides continued service to the people it serves.

To celebrate the Knaack’s legacy and in honor of the 65th anniversary of Avenues to Independence, the Spirit of Avenues Award was renamed in 2018.

William Knaack is known affectionately as the founder of Avenues to Independence. William, A Park Ridge postman, saw children with developmental disabilities sitting at home as he delivered mail in the neighborhood. Concerned there were no classes for these children at the schools their sisters and brothers attended, William knew something had to be done.

So with the help of other parents, friends and neighbors he changed lives. In 1953, his daughter Valerie, and nine other children with developmental disabilities started classes at the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge. It was the best delivery William ever made. Decades later, Avenues to Independence is still delivering on William’s promise to put aside old ideas about what is possible.

2023 Recipient

Ed & Matt Coyne

Longtime Avenues supporters Ed Coyne and Matt Coyne were awarded the William & Jean Knaack Spirit of Avenues Award. They were presented with a piece of artwork created by Avenues program participant Brian who has been employed by Matt and Ed at Coyne Insurance in Park Ridge for over a decade. The award was presented by their friend and Avenues Board Member Glen Amundsen at the 70 th Anniversary Kickoff Event in February 2023.

Past Recipients