MY WASHINGTON • Summer 2002
Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg, A.B. '66

The painting in the background is by David S. Millstone, the late son of WU Trustee I. E. Millstone, B.S. '27, and represents one of the Kranzbergs' many works by St. Louis artists.

Alumna Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg instills enthusiasm, time, and treasure into St. Louis cultural institutions. Her mantra is to support the arts through "community collaboration."

Chances are, if you ever have occasion to sit down with Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg, A.B. '66, to discuss a St. Louis community volunteer effort, you'll have to catch her on the run. She's very likely on the way from one board meeting or planning session to another.

But if you want to talk about something she believes will make a positive contribution to St. Louis, she'll make time for you. It won't be long, either, before she turns the conversation to how your project might interact with something else she's doing—"Community collaboration is the name of the game!" is her constant theme. And she might just add your cause to the list of those to which she already contributes time, talent, and treasure—and which she promotes in the guise of a spirited cheerleader.

Her list is long and wide-ranging, befitting someone described by her admirers as a full-time community volunteer. A capsule description of the organizations or programs in which she is active, or has been over the past three decades, and her involvement with each, would easily fill these two pages.

Her interests span the arts in all their manifestations, culture, education, Jewish charities, and social and health agencies—among them the Saint Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Craft Alliance, Sheldon Art Galleries, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Center for the Humanities at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, Jazz at the Bistro, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, Missouri Mansion Preservation, the Pioneer Literary Group, the new Loop Theater, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Junior League, the American Cancer Society, Places for People (an agency that advocates for people with mental illness), and—of course—Washington University's National Council for the University Libraries and the Libraries' Eliot Society Membership Committee. Those are only a sampling!

Add to that a morning arts show she hosts on KDHX Community Radio, which has helped her create connections to almost every person and organization associated with the arts scene in St. Louis. The artists, musicians, writers, and gallery directors she has interviewed came willingly to chat with her about their projects. "I was on the board of the Missouri Arts Council," she says with a sly chuckle. "They could hardly turn me down."

Blend Nancy's causes with the activities and affiliations of her husband, Kenneth Kranzberg—including Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the St. Louis Regional Educational and Public Television Commission (KETC-TV)—and you'll find that between them, almost every St. Louis arts organization has benefited from the Kranzberg touch. "We make a good team," she admits.

Appreciating the Arts

Nancy had always loved singing and music, but her appreciation for the arts blossomed appreciably when she came to Washington University to study education. Two faculty members left a lasting impression on her—Orland Johnson, director of the University choir, and Herbert Metz, associate professor of drama and English—as did the courses she took in art history.

But it may have been her friend and fellow choir member, Sheila Kulbarsh, who influenced her most directly as they traveled on choir trips. Sheila seemed to know everything about music and art, and when Nancy asked her how she had learned so much, Sheila said her mother had constantly dragged her to museums and concerts when she was a child. Nancy began learning all she could about the arts—"I just wanted to improve myself," she says. And when she had children of her own, Nancy followed the example of Sheila's mother and exposed her own two daughters to every aspect of St. Louis culture.

Along the way, her focus turned from self-improvement to community betterment. The people she interviewed on radio showed her the breadth and depth of arts activities in St. Louis. This gave her the first main theme for her emerging role as an advocate for the arts: "The arts are alive in St. Louis!"

What she learned about each organization or institution made it possible for her to see the potential rewards of having them work together. The theme of community collaboration took form in her thinking, and then finding ways to encourage cross-pollination among organizations became her mission. "By networking, I have brought many artists and organizations together," Kranzberg says. It was her suggestion to have Rich O'Donnell, chief percussionist of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, perform at the "Fire and Ice" winter solstice event at Laumeier Sculpture Park. She was also the catalyst for bringing the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the New Music Circle together.

The nature of her contributions has changed as well. She began by giving her time and energy, sharing what she knew, and then, as resources permitted, donating financial support as well. The Kranzbergs' growing philanthropy followed the growing success of the family business; Kranson Industries, of which Ken is chairman of the board, has become the largest distributor of glass and plastic bottles in the United States.

As the business grew, so did their ability to support the organizations and causes they care about. With plain-speaking good humor, Nancy explains how they were able to make increasingly more generous commitments over the years: "My husband sold a lot of bottles ... Ken started selling more bottles ... And then Ken started selling a lot more bottles!"

Nancy's warmth and enthusiasm are contagious. It is part of her secret for getting people to work harder and to work together. She also has a strong intuitive sense for identifying others who have the talent and skills to get things done. One of the first people infected by her love for Washington University was her husband, who is not an alumnus. Ken has become Nancy's full partner in helping her alma mater become a better, stronger place. Shirley K. Baker, vice chancellor for information technology and dean of University Libraries, says, "Nancy has long been a great friend of the Libraries. She was already involved when I arrived in St. Louis, and she took charge of me, making sure I met people in the community."

One of Nancy's favorite projects has been the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Studio for the Illustrated Book, which she and Ken established; the studio's inauguration was held in September 1997. Dean Baker says there is always a waiting list of students wanting to take classes in bookmaking and graphic design. "Every spring," Baker says, "there is an award for the best student work of the year. These awards have come to be called the 'Nancys.'"

Nancy herself has received many awards and recognition from a host of organizations for her volunteerism and fundraising. At the University, she received the first University Libraries Dean's Medal in 1996 and was given a Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day 2001.

Recently, Nancy and Ken, who are Life Members of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, made a major commitment to the new Visual Arts and Design Center (VADC). When the new facility is completed, the Illustrated Book Studio will move to the VADC from the West Campus. Baker says, "Ken and Nancy's support of the Visual Arts and Design Center draws together two strong interests—libraries and the arts."

Despite the lengthy list of organizations and causes in which Nancy has been involved, she admits to special feelings for two of them: "The Saint Louis Art Museum and Washington University are my two great loves," she says. And Washington University is all the better for being so close to the heart of this energetic personification of the "lively arts."

—John W. Hansford