Be Good (For Goodness’ Sake!)

From celebrating the arts to helping children to feeding the hungry, so many charities in Evansville support worthy missions. People here have a tradition of responding to our community’s needs. Here’s our guide to doing good.

Ted Ziemer

Ted Ziemer, a partner in the law firm of Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel & Shoulders, LLP, has earned a reputation for being a passionate and successful fundraiser — so much so that the Vanderburgh Community Foundation honored him with a Spirit of Giving award for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser. He currently serves on the board of trustees for the University of Southern Indiana and the board of directors for the St. Mary’s Foundation; the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science; the local chapters of the American Red Cross and the United Way; and more.

I always say that the very most important part of a successful fundraising campaign is having a good case statement, showing why the money is needed, and what you’re going to be able to do with it — and the fact that if the money doesn’t come, you’re not going to be able to do it. If you can develop that case statement, the people of Evansville are so responsive to requests for funds.

For example, I was chairman of the Red Cross board for about six years when they were having their capital campaign to raise the $4.2 million they needed to build their new building out on the Lloyd Expressway … We had a wonderful case statement in that our building was rundown and leaking. We used to have board meetings where we had to put up umbrellas because water was dripping. So we saw the important need to have a new home for the Red Cross and its activities. We were able to raise the whole $4.2 million.

There are some things that you give to and it’s going to be forever; the organization’s going to continue. But when you see specific projects that can be attained, and they’re not going to be attained if you can’t raise the money to get it done … USI’s a marvelous example. So many of the scholarships only are possible because of the fundraising efforts that have taken place. Many of these kids are on partial or full scholarships and are first-time family members to go to college. They couldn’t do it if the scholarship funding wasn’t available to assist them. So that’s the motivation — just seeing the results that will flow from putting the money together that’s needed for an important project.

Strong Foundations

From the city’s schools to its arts organizations to its healthcare community, little has been left untouched by the generosity of Evansville families. Here’s a look at two very different foundations that have made doing good a family affair.

The Thomas A. and Sharon K. Ruder Foundation began in 1998 when longtime Edward Jones financial advisor Thomas Ruder and his wife, Sharon, “looked at the needs and wanted to support the community we reside in,” says Thomas. “I also had two young kids, and I wanted to instill in them that they have the responsibility to be philanthropic and to make the community a better place.”

The couple’s children — Bryan, now 18 and a Hanover College freshman, and Alex, 17, a senior at Bosse High School — play an active role in the foundation, reviewing grant applications and evaluating the community’s needs. The Ruder Foundation’s focus is broad: “to help fulfill the needs and dreams of the community where we live,” says Thomas, whether that means supporting nonprofit organizations, volunteering as a family, or facilitating higher education through an endowed scholarship for Eagle Scouts at the University of Southern Indiana.[pagebreak]

Two organizations the family deeply believes in are the Little Sisters of the Poor and the AIDS Resource Group. One year, Bryan delivered a check to the latter. “As a 16-year-old boy,
I think he was a little intimidated going in there,” Thomas admits. “But he came back blown away” by the kindness of the staff and the education and support services the organization provides.

The Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation began when the late community philanthropist Dallas (Bower) Suhrheinrich developed a trust at Fifth Third Bank to manage her assets with her husband, William. After she passed away in 2003 at age 91, an advisory committee was established under the terms of the trust. The committee and bank elected to complete the multi-year grants that Suhrheinrich had begun during her lifetime, and “then it went from there,” says Patrick Koontz, a vice president and trust officer at Fifth Third who administers the Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation.

In keeping with Suhrheinrich’s own interests, the foundation focuses on the arts and education. One of its most high-profile projects is the underwriting of the new Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation Gallery at the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, home to rotating art exhibits and weekly lunchtime performances of music, dance, theater, and more.

Other recent projects include developing children’s programming in the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library system and contributing to Patchwork Central’s art studio. “The idea is to start that interest in the arts at a very young age,” says Koontz, “so it’s not something completely foreign to them later when they have the opportunity to take a more proactive role. When they grow up, maybe they’ll be the next Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation.”

Gina Moore

Longtime YMCA administrative assistant Gina Moore credits her job, in part, for piquing her interest in community service, but around Evansville, she’s best known as the songbird who donates her soaring voice to local charity events. Moore has performed with celebrities such as Josh Groban (who is “just as everyday as you and me,” she says) and Michael Bolton (“not approachable at all — you’re not all that, honey”). Still, some of her most memorable experiences come from interacting with audience members at Evansville’s charity benefits.

I grew up singing at Liberty Baptist Church in the youth choir, and at first, I didn’t really like to sing. I was very, very rebellious. I would get up to the podium and sing real nonchalant. I don’t know what changed … When I joined the Sounds of Grace (at Grace and Peace Lutheran Church) in 1977, I was like, “Oh, this is fun!” Now you can’t shut me up.

I think it’s universal: People love music. If you’re passionate with your music, they just feel it — they feel it through you.

I sing at Race for the Cure every year, and I just enjoy that so much. I was getting some gas recently at Thorntons on St. Joseph Avenue, and as I was coming out, another lady was coming out, too. She said, “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but you sang at the Race for the Cure. I have cancer, and it came back.” My heart just sank. And she said, “But you sang that song, ‘I Run for Life,’ and it just lifted my spirits. I’m going to be all right. I have to go all the way back through chemo and the other stuff again, but that song just lifted my heart, and I’m going to hang on.” I said, “Please hang in there,” and she said, “I will see you next year. I’ll be there.”

I’m singing, and I’m enjoying it, and I’m feeling it, but what people get from it is amazing. I can’t really explain it, but the emotions on their faces … it’s what they interpret and how they’re feeling at that moment. I don’t know everyone’s situation and what they’re going through. But if it can come out in song, that’s awesome. It’s a blessing to be able to share that.[pagebreak]

Scott Wylie

After earning a law degree from the University of Illinois, Carmi, Ill., native Scott Wylie took his passion for public service to California. Now, back home in the Tri-State, he co-owns Firefly Southern Grill and frequently appears at local charity events as a caterer. Wylie also works at the Volunteer Lawyer Program, connecting area attorneys with pro bono opportunities. “I have this wonderful part-time job where I get to help attorneys do good,” Wylie says. “How cool is that?”

A lot of folks in the Midwest are raised with an obligation to help others if we ourselves are able. Growing up in a small town, when you looked at who was on the school board, who was on the Boy Scout council, who was on the boards of most of the local charities, you always saw the local doctors, the local lawyers, and other local professionals. I grew up in an environment where there was an expectation that if you were a lawyer, you had an obligation to use those skills you gained to help others. When I finished law school, I thought much the same. I’ve really been blessed that my education allowed me to do a lot of things to fulfill that dream of public service.

(Firefly co-owner Joshua Armstrong and I) decided early in the operation of our restaurant that our primary marketing opportunity was going to be to spend our money supporting local charities. It allows us to make their events more successful for them. So when they don’t have to spend as much money on catering or gift cards, they can devote more money to their mission. We primarily focus on human services and the arts in terms of the groups we support, but we’ve had the opportunity as a restaurant to support hundreds of local charities, all the way from small groups — church choirs and high school bands — to some of our largest charities, where we do major donations of catering or services.

Sometimes we’re being paid; sometimes we’re donating part of it. For a lot of events, we’ll donate the catering in its entirety — an event we do every year is Songs for Life, which benefits local AIDS charities. In all of those efforts, whether it’s donating a gift card or an auction package all the way up to doing catering, it’s a way we can live our corporate commitment to being a good community citizen.

Terry Huber

Fourteen years ago, Terry Huber wanted to be more involved in the community. As the executive director of workforce and economic development at Ivy Tech Community College, it was part of his job description — so he says. His dedication to the Lampion Center, a nonprofit counseling and support organization for children, became a deep passion. He raises funds, donates time, and advocates for their sexual abuse prevention programs. He’s a vocal champion for Lampion, and in October, the Vanderburgh Community Foundation also recognized his efforts as a children’s philanthropist with a 2009 Spirit of Giving Award.

Lampion dealt with family issues, but they also did adoptions. My brother-in-law was adopted through (Lampion predecessor) Family and Children’s Service. That was part of the meaningfulness I was looking for. Little did I know, but they provided help for children who experienced different kinds of abuse. Fast forward to today. They probably are known as the premier support and family group for small children, especially those dealing with different kinds of abuse — physical and sexual.

I have a daughter who, at 12 years old, was sexually abused by a teacher. It only was after going through therapy at what is now known as the Lampion Center that she went from feeling guilty for 20 years to understanding she was in fact a victim. I don’t believe in coincidences. Lampion Center now is involved in a program called Stewards of Children, which deals with that very issue.

It’s a program developed out of South Carolina where they had a huge problem with sexual abuse after a local principal was charged — a high-profile individual. This community was devastated. So they put together this marvelous program.

We have this perception that (molesters) are strangers in the park with a trench coat. Mostly, it’s people whom kids know and whom the kids and the parents trust. And, too many times it’s the parents themselves who are sexually abusing. This program educates and provides awareness and prevention. It’s been delivered now here to hundreds and hundreds, and the goal is to train thousands in the next few years.[pagebreak]

Karen Magan

Every September, when the Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville (cMoe) throws itself a birthday bash, partygoers have much to celebrate — including the work of Karen Magan. After opening Downtown in 2006, the museum created the Karen D. Magan Inspiring Life Award award to honor Magan, a tireless advocate for children and lover of childhood. Along with the Junior League of Evansville, she was an early champion of cMoe’s predecessor, the Hands On Discovery Children’s Museum.

I was active in the Junior League of Evansville and was asked to chair Kaleidoscope, a traveling art activity for children sponsored by Hallmark Cards.

As a provisional in the Junior League of Evansville, we were encouraged to be active in the community and the Junior League. I was an elementary school teacher and enjoy children and their wit. From observation, I know children benefit from active, hands-on learning. That’s what cMoe offers.

The biggest struggles in opening cMoe (initially called Hands On Discovery) were finding free space first in Eastland Mall and later in Washington Square Mall. It also was a challenge to keep volunteers interested when we were between locations and closed. But watching cMoe finally open in Downtown Evansville was wondrous — better than my wildest imaginings!

It’s the people I’ve worked with over the years who provide the best memories and inspiration. And learning Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel was backing the children’s museum made cMoe happen.

What does it take to see a project through more than a decade of hard work? Passion, persistence, patience, and people.

Check out the full feature in the November/December 2009 issue of Evansville Living!
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