Transformative Devotion

Guest Correspondence


Words like inspiration, dedication, generosity and commitment are ones that typically come to mind when we think of the many people who give of themselves and their resources to help strengthen and transform our community. One word that sometimes gets overlooked when we speak about philanthropy, though, is devotion.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County this past week hosted its annual Legacy Society luncheon to honor those who have left portions of their estates to support the community long after their time with us. I was touched to share a story of devotion about two sisters from Chicago, Dr. Gertrude Hight and Muriel O’Neil, who moved to this area 20 years ago and immediately fell in love with our amazing community.  

Throughout separate but successful careers in the publishing industry, leading busy lives, Gertrude going to medical school in her 50s, and attending to all the various twists and turns that life throws our way, Gertrude and Muriel always managed to stay close with one another. So when Muriel passed away a few years ago, it was no surprise Gertrude was by her side.

The story could have ended there, and it would have been beautiful. But instead there is so much more to tell.

Following Muriel’s death, Gertrude inherited her sister’s estate. She could have done anything with that gift, but what she chose to do was to invest in our community in a way that will transform arts and education throughout the area for many years to come for the five organizations she was passionate about supporting.  By creating the Muriel O’Neil Fund for the Performing Arts, Gertrude found a way to honor her sister’s love for the arts and also express her passion for making a difference in the lives of others. It was an act of devotion that moves my heart.

Thanks to the generosity of these two sisters, Florida Studio Theatre expanded its business and educational offices. The Players Centre for the Performing Arts successfully launched its capital campaign for a state-of-the-art theatre and performing arts center in Lakewood Ranch. WEDU was able to continue its award-winning arts and educational programming, and Sarasota Ballet received the funding it needed to grant more scholarships to talented young performers, like the young dancers participating in the ballet’s Dance - The Next Generation program.  The Asolo Repertory Theatre was able to install a state-of-the-art sound system for the Mertz Theater, expand space at the Robert and Beverly Koski Production Center, plus expand funding for Student Fellowships for the Asolo/FSU Conservatory for Actor Training. 

This is a gift that will impact people for many generations to come. (You can see a video about these women at our Facebook page.)

Gertrude and Muriel’s story is emblematic of similar transformative opportunities being created every day by giving people across our community. Whether it’s an interest in the arts and culture, education, the environment or any other passion a donor may have, legacy giving provides a vehicle that allows benefactors and their families to provide a lasting tribute to their philanthropy while making an enormous impact.

Everyone in the community can be part of our foundation’s mission to be the one to make a difference. It is through the inspiration, dedication, commitment and, yes, devotion of our donors that we are able to transform lives and create a positive, lasting impact on our community.

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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