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Brucemore estate's first capital campaign exceeds $5 million goal

The beams of the porte-cochere have been removed for restoration at the Brucemore historic estate as part of the $5 mill
The beams of the porte-cochere have been removed for restoration at the Brucemore historic estate as part of the $5 million capital campaign. Photographed Wednesday in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Despite the pandemic and because of the derecho, the timing was perfect for Brucemore to not only meet, but exceed, a fundraising goal for the historic estate’s first capital campaign.

“We’re pretty pleased that the first time we attempted a campaign — and that it culminated in all the midst of such chaos — that we were able to cross the finish line,” said David Janssen, Brucemore’s executive director.

Donations from more than 700 people, corporations, foundations, state entities and clubs from across the country reached the $5.19 million mark in December, topping the $5 million goal of the Pride and Preservation Campaign.

“We had an extraordinary gift from a donor foundation at the very, very beginning, that was a million dollars,” said Katie Benedix, Brucemore’s development manager. “And that was the John and Cindy Family Foundation. That early gift really set the stage, and then the other larger gifts that came in — we had a couple of fantastic board members who stepped up and said, ‘My gift needs to be at a high level,’ because they saw the value of what we were going to provide.”

In August 2019, the campaign received a $400,000 Enhance Iowa Grant. This past July, Brucemore was awarded $1.18 million in historic preservation tax credits for the largest aspect of its capital project, preserving and repairing the mansion’s exterior to halt water damage and prevent interior damage.

“All together, the state support came in around $1.5 million. And that’s competitive funding. We were competing against organizations across the entire state of Iowa,” Benedix said.

Individual donations ranged from $5 to $250,000. “Every single donor and every single dollar made a difference to us getting to that goal,” she said.

Project phases

As outlined on Brucemore’s website, the money is earmarked for three major areas:

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• Mansion envelope restoration, a four-phase project to not only preserve and protect the mansion’s exterior, but also to protect the interior that houses irreplaceable art, furnishings and documents that tell Brucemore’s story.

• Sitewide infrastructure, to improve outdoor lighting and enhance electrical access for programming across the estate.

• BESAFE, to enhance security and fire safety.

More than 1 million people have visited the 26-acre estate in the heart of the city since Margaret Douglas Hall, who grew up there, bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1981. She and her husband, Howard Hall, were the mansion’s last residents, and in keeping with their love of the arts, the estate has become a cultural center for the city, as well as a touchstone linking past to present.

Margaret Hall also left an endowment, valued then at $2 million, for the estate, which also had funding from her brother- and sister-in-law, Beahl and Irene Hall Perrine. It’s no longer enough to maintain and position the property for the future, Janssen said.

“The significance of the historic preservation part of this campaign is really not about the bricks and mortar. It’s about the values that we have. Historic sites provide every community with a sense of place, with identity, with a connection to previous generations that is irreplaceable,” Janssen said. “Brucemore, for nearly four decades, has added value to the cultural economy and to the artistic community and to the tourism potential of Eastern Iowa.”

Landscape recovery

Brucemore’s grounds also are a huge draw for outdoor enthusiasts as well as cultural audiences. Landscape recovery and replenishment was part of the plan from the beginning, but became even more urgent when the Aug. 10 derecho destroyed 70 percent of the estate’s trees.

Derecho destruction not only became a rallying point for volunteers to help clear the debris, but for donors to help finish the campaign through a matching grant challenge. Shortly after the storm, Brucemore neighbors David Maier and Matthew McGrane offered to match donations received by Sept. 30 to aid in landscape recovery efforts, most of which won’t be covered by insurance.

The challenge sought gifts from new donors as well as from the estate’s neighbors. More than 200 people answered the call, with new donations totaling $25,000 and another $20,000 from neighbors. Maier and McGrane matched those gifts with $45,000, upping the final tally to $90,000.

Maier and McGrane “really wanted to make sure that the community knew that it was important to do this,” Benedix said. “In a year and a time when there are a lot of competing priorities and everybody needs a little bit more — everybody, individuals, families, businesses and everybody just needs a little bit more — they really were our ‘little bit more’ in 2020.”

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The Cedar Rapids Garden Club also secured a $10,000 grant from the Garden Club of America for landscape work.

While the debris clearing is ongoing, the grounds remain open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for walks, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and on weekends when the gates are open.

And for the first time, the mansion is open for self-guided tours this winter. Typically it would be closed, except for intimate productions. Tour dates, times and costs are detailed at brucemore.org.

Planning

Capital campaign planning began in 2017, with a feasibility study to measure public interest. From the overwhelmingly positive response, Brucemore launched a “quiet phase,” during which an executive committee was formed, chaired by Carroll Reasoner and Tom Peffer. Committee members began networking with family, friends and colleagues. By the time the campaign went public in 2019, nearly $3 million already had been raised.

Theatre Cedar Rapids, The History Center, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art already had completed capital campaigns, but Orchestra Iowa — which partners with Brucemore to stage its season-opening concert on the front lawn — was contemplating its own fundraising initiative about the same time.

“We were aware of Brucemore’s campaign when we conducted our feasibility study,” said Jeff Collier, the orchestra’s chief executive. “We hoped to be a bit staggered from other arts and culture campaigns in the region, and suspected that we would be ramping up as Brucemore closed in on the finish line. I’m thrilled they saw such great success.”

He noted that the orchestra now is early in the silent phase of a campaign to strengthen its endowment, adding that the pandemic and derecho have slowed progress. But he expects to be “going more public in the next year or so with the campaign, as we get closer to our 100th anniversary.”

Even though Brucemore’s campaign is over, the need for historic preservation never ends.

“If you want to donate to preservation at Brucemore, from now until forever, this fund is here,” Benedix said. “You can still donate. It will still go to these projects.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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