Sacramento classical music groups receive $1.1 million windfall from estate of former U.S. Forest Service worker

09/03/2014 5:51 PM

10/01/2014 1:14 PM

Three classical music organizations in the Sacramento region will share in a $1.1 million bequest from the late J. David Ramsey, a former U.S. Forest Service worker.

It’s the most significant gift ever earmarked for classical music through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, which has been overseeing such gifts since 1983.

“This is not business as usual for us. It’s groundbreaking in that it’s a large bequest, and specifically given for local classical music,” said Shirlee Tully, chief of marketing and development for the SRCF.

The regional foundation didn’t release much information about Ramsey, other than that he retired from the Forest Service and moved from the Sierra foothills to Davis to be close to the Mondavi Center and its classical concerts.

His bequest includes $387,462 for the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation. That organization oversees an endowment for the cash-strapped Sacramento Philharmonic, which recently announced that – for the first time in its 17-year history – it would not present concerts this fall due to financial troubles.

The philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera last year to form the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. The opera will also not present concerts in the fall, and both organizations may not present any concerts in the spring of 2015.

Although last year’s merger was supposed to strengthen both organizations, it hasn’t had that effect.

The two groups’ combined budgets totaled more than $2 million before the merger. At present, the alliance has just $131,000 in the bank for the 2014-2015 season.

“This gift is very important to us,” said David Boje, president of the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation. “The orchestra has been having tremendous financial difficulties and there has been serious drainage of the foundation’s assets.”

The orchestra has been relying on the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation’s endowment to keep presenting concerts the last six years, said Boje. “There were many years that there would not have been an orchestra performing if not for the foundation,” he said.

It is not clear how the Ramsey bequest will affect the Sacramento Philharmonic in the short term, given that the philharmonic foundation is a separate organization from the orchestra itself.

“It’s not our money, so I don’t know what its effect will be,” said Laurie Nelson, board president of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. Still, she said, “It’s fantastic news, and I’m so excited that someone wanted to support local classical music.”

The Ramsey bequest also includes $232,477 for the Grass Valley-based Music in the Mountains and $232,477 to the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento.

Also included in the bequest is roughly $310,000 that will be endowed in perpetuity to promote classical music in the region.

That endowment is meant to provide funds for classical music organizations – especially in the future, said Tully.

The Sacramento Region Community Foundation expects to solicit proposals from classical music organizations for gifts from the Ramsey fund, with the foundation making the ultimate decision on which organizations are most deserving of funds, Tully said.

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