UMKC Conservatory Honors Shirley Bush Helzberg
“I can think of no individual in our community who has done more, with more different organizations, or who has done so with more humility and grace,” said Frank Byrne, executive director of the Kansas City Symphony.
Helzberg’s support of Kansas City has long included a commitment to UMKC. In 2001, she and her husband, Barnett C. Helzberg Jr., former Chairman of the Board of Helzberg Diamonds, received the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards dinner. She has been a strong supporter of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance as a member of the Friends of the Conservatory and the Conservatory Women’s Committee, through which she and Barnett endowed a scholarship. The Helzbergs also are past honorary chairs of Crescendo, the Conservatory’s annual fundraising gala.
Helzberg has generously donated to various other UMKC organizations, including the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
As president of the Kansas City Symphony Board of Directors since 1995, and a founding board member of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Helzberg’s legacy of arts involvement endures. Her namesake Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center, home of the Kansas City Symphony, is one of the most technically and architecturally advanced concert halls in the nation. Five Kansas City Symphony musicians are faculty of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, including concertmaster Noah Geller.
On May 1, Helzberg became chair of the Board of Trustees of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which joins UMKC this year in celebrating their 80th anniversaries. She also has served as Chair of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, President of Starlight Theatre and Founding Chairman of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City. She and Barnett also were named Kansas Citians of the Year in 2001 by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Helzberg also embraces Kansas City’s significant architecture. She led the restoration of Webster House, a Romanesque-style school next door to the Kauffman Center, which is now a shopping and dining destination, as well as the Blossom House, an 1882 mansion; and the Vitagraph Film Exchange Building, a 1930 Art Deco structure. These redevelopment projects have achieved awards at the county, city and state level.
Another side of Helzberg’s philanthropic giving is her commitment to education. She has served on UMKC’s Women’s Council, and established the Barnett and Shirley Helzberg Award in Memory of Gladys Feld Helzberg. The award is administered through the council’s Graduate Assistance Fund, which provides financial support beyond books and tuition to women students.
In 2000, the Helzbergs, along with Tom Bloch and Lynn Brown, founded University Academy charter school. The school emphasizes a college preparatory curriculum for students from the Kansas City School District in partnership with UMKC, which sponsors the academy’s status as a Missouri charter school. UMKC supports University Academy in many ways, including providing an additional layer of oversight and guidance for both the board and administration. In 2012, all of its graduates were accepted to institutions of higher education; and one of 10 students planned to attend UMKC.
Because of her vision and efforts, UMKC seeks to bestow one of its highest honors on Helzberg, a tireless supporter of the arts, the city and the university. UMKC presented Shirley Bush Helzberg with an honorary degree at the spring 2013 Commencement Exercises for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.
Helzberg is one of five exceptional civic leaders who have made an indelible mark on the community and who received honorary doctorate degrees during spring commencement exercises at UMKC. The other honorees are R. Crosby Kemper Jr., retired chairman of UMB Bank, College of Arts and Sciences; Gregory Graves, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, School of Computing and Engineering; James A. Polsinelli, founder of the Polsinelli law firm, School of Law; and Ralph Reid, president of the Sprint Foundation and vice president of corporate social responsibility for Sprint, School of Education.