Sister Act for the Performing Arts

Community Foundation


The ultimate, noble gesture to use philanthropy as a way to honor the memory and merit of a loved one–  That’s just what Dr. Gertrude Hight did to recognize her beloved sister, Muriel O’Neil once she passed. These two kind-hearted theatre buffs display a kind of sentimental expression that can now be enjoyed throughout the entire performing arts community.

The Muriel O’Neil Fund was created by Gertrude out of respect for her late sister, having been very close and living together in Sarasota at the end of their lives. Muriel had passed away in 2013, one month shy of her 90th birthday. Not having any children of her own, Muriel left quite a significant estate to Gertrude. Gertrude knew she didn’t really have a need for the money, thus decided to use the money to honor her sister’s memory instead. Gertrude passed away herself just last year, but before she did, she worked with Williams Parker– a local legal firm, to create a trust that would form a$3.1 million charitable fund at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Gertrude knew Muriel was an immensely passionate fan of the arts, and wanted to make sure that Muriel’s name would live on through the power of philanthropy long after she was gone.

Once Muriel retired to Florida from her important positions for various magazines, as well as The New York Times, she became involved in local theatre and arts organizations in their formative years. For decades, she attended a number of events around town, either by herself or escorted by her sister. She wasn’t a socialite by any means, and came across incredibly genuine and modest. In the trust, Gertrude designated that the funds be distributed to Muriel’s favorite local performing arts organizations. The only catch was that the funds had to be used creatively to ensure that naming opportunities were available. Now Muriel’s love for the arts will be shared throughout the community, and her name will be remembered in Sarasota for generations to come. As will Gertrude’s, for the thoughtful reverence to her sister and selfless act to the community. Here’s how the funds were disbursed and allocated:

Asolo Repertory Theatre – Went to purchasing and installing a state-of-the-art sound system in Mertz Theatre, construction and capital improvement costs in the newly expanded Robert and Beverly Koski Production Center Campus, and created an endowed fund in Muriel’s name to support the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training Student Fellowship.

Florida Studio Theatre – Used for the renovation and improvements to FST’s Arnold Simonsen and Ronda Montminy Theatre Wing and the Roberta Leventhal Sudakoff Theatre Wing. Also created an endowed fund in Muriel’s name to underwrite the Florida Studio Theatre Mainstage Winter Series into perpetuity.

Sarasota Ballet – Funding the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory Program on an ongoing basis and providing a senior student scholarship annually under Muriel’s name. Also went to enhancing Dance the Next Generation learning center and mentor program, and funding the Sarasota Ballet International Intensive program.

WEDUHelped cover the costs of transitioning programs and services previously provided by University of South Florida Foundation and created an endowed fund in Muriel’s name to provide sustainability and support to WEDU television station.

Players Centre for Performing Arts -  Made a $1 million gift to kick off The Player’s capital campaign and its efforts to raise $30 million for the new performance and arts education complex in Lakewood Ranch. A wing of the new complex will be named after Muriel.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is proud to partner with SRQ Media Group to highlight stories about community impact powered by philanthropy in our region, thanks to the support of donors and our local nonprofit partners. The Community Foundation is a public charity founded in 1979 by the Southwest Florida Estate Planning Council as a resource for caring individuals and the causes they support, enabling them to make a charitable impact on the community. For more information, visit

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