Sisters MarySue Harris (left) and Anabeth Cox

Sisters MarySue Harris (left) and Anabeth Cox.

PHOTO BY JOHN F. KELLER

Growing up, sisters Anabeth and MarySue Hormel always had music in their home. Today, their appreciation for live performances has led them to support Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra with major financial gifts.

Neither can remember a time without music; their family members sang together in harmony on road trips, they both played piano, and they loved to play records and dance in their living room to the joyful music of Schubert and Beethoven. In their hometown of McCook, they attended community concerts and learned to appreciate live performances.

Their parents, Thalma Lowe Hormel and Benjamin Franklin Hormel Jr., played a major part in their love for music. Their father had always played the saxophone, and one day, when their mother was out of town, he purchased a piano. When he called to tell her, she said, “By the time I get home, you’d better know how to play it!” So he taught himself, making a list of songs he wanted to learn, and then learning to play them by ear.

If you ask Anabeth and MarySue, they will tell you this constant pursuit of knowledge and beauty was typical of their upbringing; their father taught them poems and citations, and encouraged them in their music studies.

“We were always learning something,” said Anabeth, who is older by two years. “We were raised with a great deal of love, and lots of communication,” MarySue chimed in. “Our parents were strict, but so loving. They were truly awesome.”

It’s no surprise that music has remained central in their lives. Anabeth always has music playing in her home, she sings, and she attends many performances. MarySue touched hundreds of lives during the 49 years she taught piano lessons. Both sisters believe that absolutely everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy music.

MarySue moved to Lincoln in 1967 with her husband Bill Harris, and Anabeth moved to Lincoln two years later with her then-husband Larry Frazier and their three daughters. Since moving here, both have worked to make Lincoln a better place by supporting organizations that provide opportunities for others to share their enjoyment of music.

Father taught importance of charitable giving

“We always knew that Daddy was a philanthropist,” MarySue said. “He would say, ‘It only costs a little bit more to go first class.’ And, of course, we all know that’s not true if you’re talking about flying on an airplane. But that’s not what he was talking about! What he meant is that it doesn’t cost that much more effort to give to others when you have it to give. And even when you don’t have much to give, you should still give to people who are doing good things.”

Anabeth added, “We learned a lot from him, and what it meant not only for his estate to pass it on to us, but to the community as a whole. If it meant something to him, he supported it. And if it meant something to the community, he supported it. He had a wide range of things he gave to. Always to church, and then to a variety of things in the community.”

“Yes,” said MarySue. “We learned from Daddy how to share. And as I share, I’ve focused on things I know, things that have been meaningful in my life, and so giving to music organizations is a no-brainer.”

Anabeth agreed. “I can’t imagine life without music,” she said. “I really do listen to recordings all day at home. But there’s something special about the connection you make with the performers when you attend a live concert.”

She cites her late husband, Ted Cox, as a catalyst for her special appreciation for live performances.

“Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra was so important to Ted,” she said. “He and I have watched that symphony grow from what it was years ago. Soon after he moved here, he was asked to be on the board, and things really began to move. He loved what LSO was doing, and he understood that it takes money to facilitate that kind of growth.”

She remembers that Ted was always concerned about getting bodies in seats. They always purchased extra tickets, and invited friends and neighbors to be their guests at LSO concerts.

So when it came time for each of the sisters to think about making leadership financial gifts, they both chose to make generous, long-term gifts to LSO. MarySue speaks warmly of their love for LSO and its conductor, Edward Polochick, and executive director, Barbara Zach.

“Ed always has a hug for everyone,” she said. “And he has a big dream for how this orchestra can grow. We just know we want to support the music, but we don’t have any preconceived idea of how exactly the money should be spent. Ed and Barbara know what this orchestra could look like with the help of more financial support, and they will make it happen if we’re willing to provide that support.”

Charitable Lead Trusts

Both Anabeth and MarySue have made major 25-year gifts to LSO in the form of three separate Charitable Lead Trusts, or CLTs. A CLT is designed to provide income payments to a charitable organization for a fixed number of years, after which the trust assets are paid to a noncharitable beneficiary.

The recent gift from MarySue enabled LSO to purchase its own timpani and percussion instruments, and to increase the size of its string sections by 10 players for classical concerts. The gift from Anabeth will be used to bring premiere artists to solo with the orchestra, as well as to help with infrastructure and provide seed money for special projects.

“It’s impossible for me to adequately express my gratitude for this kind of generosity!” said Polochick. “It is something that our entire community will benefit from. LSO has been given the incredible gift of dreaming about our growth and our future in a completely new and exciting way.”

He emphasized that this gift is not meant to cover current operating costs, but to help the orchestra grow in tangible ways.

Zach said she is also overwhelmed with gratitude.

“What an incredible time to be part of the arc of LSO’s growth!” she said. “These past few years have been such an important time of foundation building, and now we are truly ready to take on new opportunities. The orchestra’s artistic quality is high, the board’s leadership is focused on how LSO can better serve our community, the administrative team is competent and passionate, and we have focused on sustainable financial growth. With these gifts, next year’s operating budget will cross the $1 million threshold, which makes a really important statement about how much our community values our orchestra.”

Growth over past decade

LSO has indeed experienced growth over the past decade. As the budget has doubled, the cash position has increased positively by more than $150,000, and the long-term note owed to the LSO Foundation has been paid down by more than one-third. Just in the past three years, the orchestra has added a third Young People’s Concert, a second holiday concert and a sixth classical concert. This comes on the heels of a renewed pops concert and expanded family concert programming.

In 2011, the orchestra made the commitment to become affordable for everyone in Lincoln (concert tickets are $15 and $30, and $10 for music teachers and young professionals). Since making this change and moving to the Lied Center, LSO’s typical audience has more than doubled, and the orchestra now serves more than 12,000 diverse audience members each year. A typical classical concert holds audience members of all ages (20 percent are under 40 years old) and all walks of life (7 percent have a household income of less than $25,000).

Zach emphasizes that LSO has worked to foster a culture of philanthropy among its patrons.

“This kind of growth is only made possible due to the generous support of annual fund donors with gifts of all sizes,” she said. “Those who have been longtime advocates of our art form have joyfully stepped forward to help us make it affordable for everyone in our community to be able to enjoy the experience of attending a live symphony concert.”

Increased gifts to LSO’s annual fund have also allowed LSO to expand its educational programs in the community. Approximately 2,000 students attend LSO’s classical concerts annually for only $5 each, thanks to the Lienemann Charitable Foundation Student Ticket Program. Last year, 13,500 students in more than 90 schools throughout Nebraska benefited from LSO’s school residencies, artist visits, student tickets and Young People’s Concerts.

LSO also provides more than 1,000 complimentary tickets annually for underserved children and families through partnerships with schools and community organizations. One such organization is Family Literacy, which serves immigrant and refugee families in Lincoln Public Schools. LSO visits all nine sites throughout Lincoln and provides tickets and transportation for every participant to attend LSO’s two family concerts each year.

Need for annual support has also grown

The need for annual support has only grown as the orchestra has expanded its regular offerings. LSO has also received several special philanthropic gifts, which have allowed the orchestra to do some unique projects in the community. For instance, an anonymous donor created a fund that allows LSO to provide live trumpeters to play “Taps” at the funerals of military veterans in partnership with the American Legion. Funding from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Beatrice Arts Council allowed LSO to perform in Beatrice in 2014 and 2015. LSO partnered with the Lied Center in September 2016 to present “Welcome Home Hannah Huston.” Funding from Ted and Anabeth Cox allowed a performance to be aired on American Public Media’s “Performance Today.”

Polochick does not take any of this growth for granted.

“I am constantly reminded of my commitment to two things,” he said. “First, I have a commitment to the composers and the music we perform. As musicians, we must never lose sight of our responsibility to do our very best to honor this art form and make it come alive for our listeners. Secondly, our commitment must be to enhance our community through the gifts we’ve been given. For me, that gift is music, and I’m honored to be part of an organization that brings beauty and grace to Lincoln, the home of my heart. I’m so grateful to the many people who also give gifts of time or treasure to this orchestra. Every little bit helps! May we all continue to work together to help our community and our orchestra thrive.”

For more information about how to become involved with LSO through attending concerts, volunteering or making a financial contribution, visit lincolnsymphony.org.

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