Our View, Velma Morrison: Philanthropist used arts to touch many

June 25, 2013 

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Velma Morrison, one of the grande dames of Boise, celebrated her 92nd birthday with family and friends at Ann Morrison Park on Aug. 19, 2012. Morrison, who died June 20, helped nurture the city’s arts and culture though her patronage and support.

KATHERINE JONES — Idaho Statesman file

The most productive and beloved philanthropists have a knack for supporting living legacies. Their gifts have a half-life unrestrained by time and their work a perennial appeal for future generations.

This is obviously true of the Morrison family and especially true of the footprint left behind by Velma Morrison, who died Thursday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 92.

Throughout its history Boise and Idaho have been fortunate to attract successful people with vision and purpose and the will to create community jewels and cultural attractions.

Local historians are fond of saying that when Boise sees something it wants or needs in the community, it makes it happen. As if they are pre-ordained, benefactors rise up from the ether of their passion and work and provide the support.

That one of these benefactors would be a single mother who was no stranger to the hard work of short-order cooking, harvesting grain, welding in a World War II-era shipyard and nursing gives testament to the human spirit. We like to think that Velma Morrison formed her ideas about the benefits of the arts and culture when she was least in a position to enjoy them herself.

No doubt her marriage to Harry W. Morrison, one of the founders of the iconic engineering firm Morrison Knudsen Co., provided her the mentorship, influence and means to express her own brand of philanthropy when she had the opportunity. It was Harry who went to work on Boise's Ann Morrison Park as a tribute to his first wife, who died in 1957.

But it was Velma, whom Harry married in 1959, who was largely responsible for rescuing the idea for a performing arts venue - originally planned for Ann Morrison Park - and following through on the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts beginning in 1980 until its completion in 1984 on the Boise State University campus. It was renamed the Velma V. Morrison Center in 2009.

Velma Morrison's mark as a community benefactor is rivaled only by her mark as a tell-it-like-it-is personality. Her early years navigating struggles while caring for her young family gave her a life-long understanding of the challenges others face. Whenever and wherever she could, she saw the arts as the best way to touch and reach the most people from all walks of life.

The Treasure Valley has been a trove of entrepreneurialism and philanthropy over the years. We hope others step forward soon to fill the void. They need not fret about what to do. Just follow the examples of the legacy families such as the Morrisons, Albertsons and Simplots and pay it forward to future generations. Those gifts, like Velma Morrison's, give forevermore.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.

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