Remarks from "Celebrating Rebecca Blunk"

NEFA's founding executive director shared these remarks at a celebration of Rebecca Blunk on May 1, 2014.

I first met Rebecca Blunk at the Holiday Inn in Kearney, Nebraska more years ago than either of us will ever admit to.  I had arrived on a rainy Friday evening in June to present a workshop the next day for a state-wide convening of performing arts presenters.  Unbeknownst to Rebecca or me, this was the night of the Kearney High School Prom which was also taking place at the Holiday Inn.  The parking lot was jammed with pick-up trucks splattered with mud and featuring tires larger than any I had ever seen.  I had never met Rebecca and I was worried about finding her among the mob scene of large men in tuxes and farm boots with seed company caps and their dates in long chiffon dresses. But it turned out to be easier than I expected.  There was, and is, only one Rebecca and she is instantly recognizable anywhere.  Her smiling face and her chuckling but proud “welcome to Kearney” made her an instant friend.  This was someone I knew I would like – and I have over the ensuing decades.

A bit after that, Rebecca came to the New England Foundation for the Arts.  The year was 1985, some nine years after I had assumed the role of founding executive director.  I wish I could claim to have been the one who brought Rebecca to NEFA but I had left the organization two years before.  She was such a superstar when I served as director that I doubt whether I could have lured her away from her work in the Midwest.

You see, though I proudly claim to be NEFA’s founding executive director, what that really means is that in 1975, the state arts agency directors in New England wanted to get a piece of the regional National Endowment money so they finally put aside their differences (which were considerable) and agreed to form an organization.  They spent months interviewing extremely qualified candidates.  Then they finally settled on a completely inexperienced individual (me) who had never held an arts administration post, with the idea that at least they could control the situation.  I was relegated to the basement of Harvard graduate student housing (thanks to my wife’s being a student there) and was given enough money to hire a part-time assistant who doubled as a babysitter for our two kids.  She and I traded off when the phone rang.  She would answer, giving the impression that people were calling a real office and then run upstairs and relieve me of the diapering while I went down to answer the phone.

I mention all this to try to give you a sense of all that Rebecca has accomplished at NEFA over the decades she has been here.  The last time I checked the website, I saw an organization with a staff of over 20 talented people, extensive programs reaching well beyond the six states of New England, incoming multi-million dollar grants, and with an impact that was not imaginable in 1975.  Maybe Rebecca does not deserve all the credit for this, but she deserves a lot, because over the course of the more than quarter century that she has been here, she has left her indelible mark. 

And so, Rebecca, when people tell me they are so impressed that I was the founding director of NEFA, I know that most of the credit belongs to you.  And to the extent that your achievements rub off on me just a little bit, thank you, thank you.  You have built something remarkable and in all that time you have remained the wonderful woman I met so many years ago in Kearney, Nebraska.