Column: Fernbank Museum on home stretch of $20 million campaign

By Maria Saporta
Friday, July 2, 2010

The Fernbank Museum of Natural History is calling on the community to help it close out its $20 million fundraising campaign by the end of August.

The community campaign will help Fernbank finish building its new $8 million Children’s Exhibition that will increase visitor capacity by 300 percent and offer more interactive ways for children to learn about the natural environment.

The museum is asking the community to help it raise $350,000. That will enable the cultural attraction to finish matching $3.1 million in challenge grants — which will enable Fernbank to meet its $20 million goal.

“Today, we have 136 donors to the campaign,” said Susan Neugent, Fernbank’s president and CEO. “We want to expand that. We want the whole community to feel like they own Fernbank, and by investing in a campaign like this, they certainly do.”

Neugent, who became Fernbank’s president in September 1997, has steered it through great growth — going from an annual budget of about $4.5 million to about $12 million. Its attendance has grown from about 275,000 a year to about 450,000. And it has gone from 47 employees to 121, including going from three to 15 scientists in its educational department.

The $20 million campaign was launched in 2007, permitting the museum to build several high-profile projects — the Dinosaur Entrance Plaza, a new archaeology program, the new Children’s Exhibit and improvements to its IMAX theater with a new five-story tall screen.

The campaign took place during the country’s worst economic recession in decades, but Neugent said it is still on schedule. Also, while the museum eliminated some of its positions, largely through attrition, and did have to cut back some programs, its finances have remained strong.

“We’ve had over 12 years of black ink here at Fernbank,” she said. While the recession did impact Fernbank’s operations, Neugent added that “we just managed through it.”

Fernbank also was able to garner key support. The Lettie Pate Evans Foundation pledged $1.75 million; the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation donated $1.5 million; the Kresge Foundation made a gift of $1.35 million; and there were three anonymous donors who each gave $1 million or more.

Other major donors include the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation; the James M. Cox Jr. Foundation; the Gary W. and Ruth M. Rollins Foundation; the David, Helen & Marian Woodward Fund; the Tull Charitable Foundation; the Devereaux F. and Dorothy M. McClatchey Foundation; and the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation.

“We needed to do this campaign to meet the growing demand of our members, our visitors, to stay current with science, and to meet kids at their level of expectation in a museum today,” Neugent said.

By the way, the chair of the campaign is now chair of Fernbank’s board — Dorothy “Wawa” Hines. Hines is the daughter of the late Rankin Smith, who owned the Atlanta Falcons and was one of Fernbank’s key champions.

DeCosta departure

Ben DeCosta, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, wrapped up his 12-year career with the city at the end of June. At a recent dinner in his honor, DeCosta told the crowd that he would like to try consulting, write a book and teach.

Then he asked the dinner guests if they watched the city government’s television channel and were familiar with Dave Walker. Walker is a maverick citizen activist who spends much of his time at City Council meetings questioning various policies and legislation. Walker also has run for mayor and City Council president, using the spotlight to challenge those running for office. So at the end of the dinner, DeCosta told the crowd: “I’m going to take Dave Walker’s job.”

Swan song

An emotional Bill Nordmark gave his swan song June 28 as president of the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

“It’s been the greatest year of my life,” Nordmark said. “I will thank God every day for the opportunity … to be president of Atlanta Rotary.”

During his year, Nordmark was involved in securing the 2017 Rotary International convention to come to Atlanta. He also instituted the Atlanta Legends Award and the Service Above Self Awards as a way to honor some of Atlanta’s and Rotary’s most valued citizens.

Nordmark said he inherited a club that was in great financial shape from past-president Alec Fraser. His goal was to leave the club in as good a shape for incoming president Larry Klamon, past chairman of Fuqua Industries Inc.

Help from Humana

Metro Atlanta nonprofit organizations have one month (by July 30) to apply for a $100,000 grant from Humana Inc. as a way to help them expand their reach. Humana will award the $100,000 to a nonprofit this fall.

Humana, a health benefits company, said its Communities Benefit-Atlanta grant can give a charitable organization a “one-time infusion of funding” to help create a new program or make a transformational impact. Applications are available online at www.Humana.com/hcb.

Zoo fundraiser a success

Zoo Atlanta raised $1 million at its major fundraiser — the Beastly Feast — held on May 15. It is the 13th consecutive year that the Beastly Feast has raised $1 million. The event also marked Ford Motor Co.’s 25th year as its presenting sponsor.

The event raises funds to support the zoo’s missions of education and conservation. Co-chairing the event this year were Caryl and Ken Smith, who serves on Zoo Atlanta’s board.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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