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Guest Columnist

The NCSML’s president/CEO has had an incredible tenure of leadership and service covering nearly 16 years. On the eve of her retirement, she shares what is at the core of the organization’s mission and of the people who support it.

On my bulletin board is a card that came with roses from my son Greg the day after the flood. It says, “A museum is not just a building, it’s really the hearts and souls of the community, and we still have those intact.”

I’ve been in the fundraising world most of my working life. Lots of people say they could never ask someone for money. But I’ve never forgotten what a mentor of mine told me: “Remember, you’re not asking for yourself, you’re asking for the cause.” That’s the key to success – passion for what you’re doing. The other key to success is working with people who are just as passionate. It can be magic.

When I came to the Museum and Library, I quickly learned there’s no passion deeper than that for family and heritage. I’d never met such generous people, whose hearts were touched by the simplest request. They agreed readily to my appeals and were proud and eager to do it.

One of my first visits was with Ray Jiruska, whose giving had already been recognized by naming the main gallery, the Ray L. Jiruska Gallery. Ray liked to tease me and act like a crusty old guy. We’d sit in his H & R Block office and he’d lead me around the mulberry bush, but I had him pegged. He was generous to a fault and always said yes with a big laugh. Ray wanted to establish a $1 million endowment, which would more than double our nascent endowment at the time. He was bound and determined to find a way and he did, with the gift of several properties, which we then were able to sell. Today his endowment is worth well over that amount and continues to fund the exhibit program every year. One of his last gifts was seed money for research and planning to build an addition to the original building. He liked to help get things started. He died in 2007, and I’m kind of glad he didn’t see what occurred over the next couple of years with the damage wrought by the flood of 2008. But it’s as clear in my mind as yesterday when I was walking down 15th Avenue to my car after a long, emotional day of cleaning out the museum after the flood and Rod Jiruska, Ray’s son, rode by on his motorcycle. He stopped and said, “We have to bring this back. We’ll get it done.” The family dedication to this cause continues.

I learned a lot from Ray and many more too numerous to tell, how much people care about their heritage, this museum, and the human values we share. The thing is, the smallest gift is as important as the largest. When people give from their heart, it’s as important to us as it is to them. As I was reminded so eloquently by Greg, it’s the hearts and souls that make a family.

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