Reflections of Robert J. Sivertsen
Sep 19, 2017
MPR President Emeritus Bill Kling reflects on Robert J. Sivertsen, founding member of the MPR board and a generous, sustaining philanthropist.
Robert J. Sivertsen died on September 18th at the age of 95. That is a name many of you have heard over the years as MPR recognized its founding board and donors.
Bob Sivertsen and Sarah-Maud W. Sivertsen were ideal partners. I met them fifty years ago. They had settled in rural Cushing Minnesota (population 632) on Lake Alexander and, to a lesser extent, in St Paul where they had their primary residence.
I knew them best as rural Minnesota residents residing winter and summer on the shores of a lake where Sarah-Maud had summered as a child, riding her horse around the undeveloped lake shore. They loved nature, birds, animals, trees and especially music. And in 1967, MPR went on the air and provided music. Classical music and opera and live concerts and more.
They listened together, often in front of a crackling fire in the silence of winter, enjoying the world of music that MPR could bring to them.
Bob Sivertsen was one of MPR's first public trustees. His role with MPR dates to 1968. During the last 50 years, Bob and Sarah-Maud were strategic donors. They saw opportunities that their giving could stimulate: a new station; equipment to make live broadcasts from Orchestra Hall possible; a lead gift to build the MPR headquarters in St Paul; a challenge grant to get the Fitzgerald Theater renovation started; a new station in rural Minnesota; a higher power transmitter for Minneapolis-St Paul; a multi-track, master, music recording studio; a grand piano. The things others might and did respond to after the initial strategic gift had been made.
Though some people thought I was always ahead of the curve in what MPR needed to succeed and expand its service, I was often surprised when a new gift for a strategy not yet presented to the Board would arrive from Sarah-Maud and Bob.
Bob (and Sarah-Maud) were nearly fifty year friends as well as donors. To sit with them and talk about what could be; to be in rural Minnesota listening with them and realizing the importance of news, music, the Metropolitan Opera, live broadcasts of the Minnesota Orchestra on Friday evenings. These were the things that mattered but they weren't always apparent in the city. You had to get out of the city to see the value to Minnesotans. They had that vision and, with the combination of significant resources and strategic giving, they helped MPR advance beyond any normal pace. Bob's death today reminded me of a quote from Aristotle that I wrote on an index card in 1966:
To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter.
He and Sarah-Maud were the epitome of that quote. The Weyerhaeuser family gave much to Minnesota and benefited much from Minnesota. Sarah-Maud and Bob together may have given Minnesota the greatest gift of all in making certain that MPR survived, realized its vision and grew to serve all of Minnesota and its residents - and eventually people around the world - with the best of what would link them together. MPR has become for many, Minnesota's "Centering Institution" enhancing life in the furthest corners of the State.
We owe so much to the generous and sustaining philanthropy of Bob and Sarah-Maud and their strategic decisions of how to make their gifts for the benefit of us all.
They are now both gone. Please join me and all of MPR in celebrating their astonishing accomplishments and their great gift to Minnesota in helping build this unparalleled service we all love.
President Emeritus, Minnesota Public Radio