Tom and Sherry Koski
A high school is much more than brick walls and classrooms. A high school is the embodiment of all the students who studied there, laughed there, cried there, made friends there, and crossed the bridge from childhood to adulthood inside its walls. The historic Sarasota High School building closed more than a decade ago, but if you stand in the main hallway and listen carefully, you will hear the quiet echoes of bells ringing, locker doors slamming, and hundreds of young voices calling to one another. One of those voices belongs to Tom Koski, Sarasota High School Class of 1978.
After graduating, Tom left for college and began a life and career in New York and Connecticut. A few years ago, Tom and his wife Sherry decided to make Sarasota their winter home and Tom began to rediscover his boyhood town. He was sad to see the once vibrant high school building standing empty and forlorn. “I have great memories of high school, so I have a love for the building,” he said. “Its best years were behind it, but it still had character.”
When Tom met Wendy Surkis, Ringling College of Art and Design trustee and president of the Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA, he learned about Ringling College's plan to turn the historic building into a visual arts education center with SMOA at its center. Tom was excited about the idea of giving new life to the old building and knew immediately that he and his fellow Sarasota High School alumni should help. But he was astonished when Wendy told him that, of the $12 million that had been raised at the time, only $5,000 had been donated by high school alumni.
He decided to take action and launch a campaign to encourage alumni to donate toward the renovation of the building. “It would be a crime to miss this opportuinty,” explained Tom. “The goal is to put a stamp on the building for alumni—we need to keep the name and the pride going.” Leading a committee of fellow alumni, Tom is working toward raising funds to name the building’s auditorium in honor of all the students who spent their high school years there.
To show their commitment to the future of the historic Sarasota High School building, Tom and Sherry made a generous $250,000 donation. They look forward to other high school alumni joining them in honoring the past and embracing the future. “We hope alumni will give to the best of their ability. The legacy of our high school will continue as a teaching institution,” says Tom. “My fellow Sailors must be a part of it.”
In Honor of Sarah...
Charlie Huisking created the Sarah F. Huisking Art Studio in honor of his sister Sarah. Members of the Huisking family have also donated funds to create the Sarah F. Huisking Memorial Scholarship.
When Sarah Huisking was growing up in Sarasota, some of her happiest times were spent in the Gothic Revival-style Sarasota High School building facing U.S. 41 near downtown Sarasota. A 1960 graduate of the school, Sarah was in the National Honor Society and on the swim team. But her favorite subject was art, an avocation that enriched her life even during the battle with cancer that she lost in 2008.
When her brother, Charlie Huisking, was looking for an appropriate way to honor Sarah’s memory, the answer came to him immediately: a $250,000 commitment to Ringling College of Art and Design to create the Sarah F. Huisking Art Studio. The gift will be fulfilled in part through a fund established by Charlie and Sarah’s parents. Fittingly, the studio will be in Sarah’s high school building, which Ringling College is transforming into the Visual Arts Educational Center, home of the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA).
Charlie describes his sister as an “incredibly generous and caring person.” Most of her paintings, which included landscapes and portraits done in oils and watercolors, were gifts to others. “In fact, a week before she died, she was in art class working on a painting of my schnauzer,” Charlie says. “It’s become one of my prized possessions.”
“Sarah loved Sarasota High, she cared about historic preservation, and she was an avid painter,” says Charlie, a former arts writer for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
“As a reporter, I covered Ringling College for years and wrote some of the first stories about its decision to join forces with the Sarasota Museum of Art. So, this project seemed like the perfect memorial.”
Photo by Barby McKown
Dr. Gordon Rubin
Dr. Gordon Rubin and his late wife, Phyllis, shared a life-long passion for design, architecture, historic preservation, and contemporary art. When Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA) board members, Linda and Dick Dickinson, introduced Dr. Rubin to Ringling College’s plan to repurpose the old Sarasota High School building into a visual arts education center and modern and contemporary art museum, he was immediately intrigued.
He was attracted by the effort to preserve the building, which reminded him of the Brooklyn, NY, of his youth. “The idea that they’re not taking it down is really nice,” he said. And he loved the plan to bring contemporary art to Sarasota. He was also struck by a special element of the building’s new space—a bridge on the third floor overlooking SMOA’s lobby. It reminded him of the first Sarasota home he shared with Phyllis.
The innovative design of their Siesta Key house had included a bridge connecting the structure’s two buildings. He and Phyllis had loved the Sarasota School of Architecture house, which had been owned by renowned artist Syd Solomon. “It was like living in a piece of sculpture,” says Dr. Rubin.
In 2008, to honor Phyllis and to show his support for SMOA, Dr. Rubin donated $250,000 toward the project. In fitting recognition of his generosity, the third floor bridge will be named The Phyllis and Gordon Rubin Walkway.
THANKS TO THE GENEROUS SUPPORT AND PARTICIPATION OF DR. GORDON RUBIN, THE SARASOTA MUSEUM OF ART IS ONE STEP CLOSER TO BECOMING A REALITY.
Photo by Cody Maple
Koni and Cary Findlay
Koni Findlay doesn’t think of herself as a modern art enthusiast, but the walls of her Sarasota home are graced by contemporary pieces. “I buy what I like,” she says. She and her husband Cary also like making a difference in their community and helping young people get an education.
Add an appreciation for old buildings (“They have personality,” says Koni) and a passion for making things happen, and it’s easy to see why they generously supported the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA), a division of Ringling College of Art and Design, with a gift of $1 million.
The story began long before SMOA was even a dream. When Koni and Cary first contemplated moving to Sarasota, they had the good luck to engage Linda Dickinson as their real estate agent. While driving around town, Koni remembers noticing the former Sarasota High School building and learning from Linda that it had an uncertain future. In the years that followed, Koni and Cary made Sarasota their home and became involved with many worthy organizations in the community. In particular, Cary joined the board of the Asolo Rep and Koni honored her love of animals by supporting Sarasota County’s Animal Rescue Coalition (ARC). “I want to make a difference when I get involved and I want to get involved with things I enjoy,” says Koni.
They came to know Ringling College President Dr. Larry R. Thompson, and grew to admire his passion for the College’s students and his vision for art and education. Helping young people get a college education is important to the Findlays. The foundations they created when they sold their South Carolina textile business were dedicated to sending the children of their former employees to college. Through Koni and Cary’s generosity, these young people now have an opportunity to seek a brighter future through education.
Although many years passed after the conversation with Linda Dickinson about the Sarasota High School building, the dream of creating a modern and contemporary art museum in Sarasota would bring the Findlays full circle to that early Sarasota memory.
As Linda and the other SMOA visionaries began looking to the community for help, Linda thought immediately of the Findlays. They became members of the SMOA Starters Circle—interested Sarasotans who provided seed money for the new project—and Koni joined the SMOA board. When SMOA and Ringling College joined forces to envision a Visual Arts Education Center in the old Sarasota High School building, with the Sarasota Museum of Art at its heart, all of the pieces were in place. Koni and Cary’s interest in education, appreciation for art, passion for advancing the community, and respect for historic preservation all came together.
“Sarasota is the cultural center of Florida. It’s what makes our community special and this project is important to Sarasota,” says Koni.In contributing $1 million to Ringling College for SMOA, through a combination of current and deferred gifts, Koni and Cary have truly made a difference in helping to bring SMOA from vision to reality.
A Passion for Philanthropy
Lois Stulberg first discovered art in her childhood during a school trip. It was love at first sight. Her appreciation for art has never diminished. She has spent a lifetime exploring that passion, visiting hundreds of art museums, art galleries and artists throughout the world. During this time, she has also become a collector. It is this deep respect for artistic endeavors that compels her to encourage other people to learn about art’s amazing ability to engage the eye and the mind.
It was through Selby Gallery and its director, Kevin Dean, that Stulberg discovered Ringling College of Art and Design. She enjoyed the exhibitions and admired Selby’s role as a teaching gallery. So began her special relationship with Ringling College.
A Ringling College trustee since 2003, Stulberg found inspiration in the College’s vibrant, creative community. Throughout the years she has seen it grow into the progressive institution it is today. Stulberg actively supports several areas of the College’s needs, including endowed scholarships, the Ringling College Library Association, Selby Gallery, Longboat Key Center for the Arts, the Trustee Scholars Program, and Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA).
“I embrace the importance of philanthropy,” she says. “I’ve been blessed because I am able to share my good fortune and have a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of others. Each of us should provide support to the level of our ability.”
In addition to Ringling College, Stulberg is involved in other philanthropic causes in Sarasota—including many creative and performing arts organizations—and helps provide public school art education programming. Her charitable kindness extends to cutting-edge medical research and several Jewish philanthropies.
But SMOA and Ringling are special to her. Stulberg was thrilled to join the founding members in establishing SMOA, now a division of Ringling College. She is passionate about the museum’s mission—to showcase modern, contemporary and emerging art—and its value to the community. Today, Stulberg serves as vice president on SMOA’s board and is spearheading the organization’s ARTmuse Program.
Continuing her past generosity and honoring her late husband, The David and Lois Stulberg Foundation has donated more than $340,000 during Ringling College’s current Pathway to Preeminence Campaign, including a major gift to SMOA.
“I believe each person can make a difference in their own lives and for others,” she says. “Supporting Ringling and SMOA is my way of making a difference. I treasure my commitment as a trustee and volunteer. Ringling College is a very special place and I would help in any way I could.”