Donors help students and others taste sweet success

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We work as a team when it comes to philanthropy. It’s “Jim and Rhonda.”

The doorbell rang.

The postman handed Jim Seacrest a box.

It was from Canada. It was addressed to him and his wife, Rhonda. Inside was a bottle of Canadian maple syrup and a letter from a young singer who had traveled to an opera contest in Ireland, along with other UNL singers, on a trip the Seacrests had sponsored.

I had the time of my life going to Ireland. On the way home, I thought, “How can I thank you?” I hope you enjoy this bottle of syrup and think of me every time you use it.

Over the years, the Seacrests have helped many young people connect with the arts. Jim grew up in a newspaper family with a long tradition of giving back. Rhonda grew up in North Platte, a town famous for its philanthropy.

Helping young people, they say, is especially sweet.

From a conversation with Jim:

We work as a team when it comes to philanthropy. It’s “Jim and Rhonda.” If you get one of us working for you, chances are very good that you’ll get us both. We bounce things off each other and it flies or it doesn’t fly.

But sometimes I have to give full credit to my wife. She comes up with some wonderful ideas that I never thought of. She is all heart.

One day, Rhonda was attending a meeting downtown at the old Hilton. She looked out the window and watched all these school buses arrive downtown, with Lincoln kids coming to the Sheldon. She thought, “All these kids have an opportunity that kids in western Nebraska don’t.”

She talked to people at the Sheldon about taking some of their wonderful works around the state, and now this is the 25th anniversary of Sheldon Statewide – one of the most successful programs the Sheldon has ever done.

We support the arts and humanities. We support the university. We’ve sent opera students on two trips to the opera finals in Waterford, Ireland. The second time, they won the international award. That was the first time it was awarded outside of Europe.

Our philanthropy is geared toward helping that single individual. We figure we can’t change the world. But we can start with our community, helping one person at a time. It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money can do.

A few years ago, the editor of the North Platte paper talked to us about how the music had gone out of a fabulous antique wooden carousel in a North Platte park. Giving money to restore that carousel has been one of our favorite gifts. We still get letters and photos of people with their grandchildren on it, saying how much they love its organ music.

People are so nice. If you give them a chance, they’ll respond.

Is philanthropy learned or inherited? Well, my grandfather, J.C. Seacrest, died 60 years ago when I was 4. I’m still finding out things he did. I learned just four or five years ago that he would find traveling operas that performed at the Lyric Theatre in Chicago and think, “I bet the people of Lincoln would love to see this.” He’d give them the money to perform in Lincoln. If something good happened to Lincoln, he was like, “Here’s a check. Hope you’re successful.”

Same with my Uncle Fred. Every time he’d read that someone was starting a Methodist Church in the state, he’d send a check.

But I suspect my father, Joe W., was my biggest influence. He and my mother were benefactors of many things, including scholarships for young women at the university. One day, when I was very young, my father showed me thank you letters from those students.

All these great people who’ve gone before us have left large footprints. My wife and I just try to follow in those footprints. We would like to think that when we leave this world, we’ll leave it a better place.

Student support is a top priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If – like the Seacrests – you also would like to help students at the University of Nebraska, please consider giving online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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