During these troubling times, I feel the need to celebrate all that is functional, generous, caring, and admirable in public life. I try to keep myself from getting too disturbed by the events of the day by remembering an interesting discussion I once had with a psychologist. He reminded me that what we hear about in the news every day is often a serious distortion of reality. “In order to fill the airwaves with bad or titillating news 24/7”, he said, “they have to search the entire globe to find it.” “What you never hear about,” he said, “are the billions of people that had a pretty good day today.” I often think about this wise bit of advice when it feels like the world has gone a little crazy. He was absolutely right, of course. There are still many things that are working. There are still many caring and dedicated people.There are still many sincere attempts to create a more peaceful and just world. And there are those who simply want to create and share beauty with others.

In that spirit, I want to celebrate the community effort made by the Woodson family, and countless community members that came together to create and manage the small, but marvelous, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. Over nearly 100 years, the Yawkey and Woodson families were prominent in Wausau’s business, cultural, and philanthropic affairs. It was their wish that others should have the opportunity to be exposed to and be inspired by art and nature, as they had been.

The museum was named for Ms. Woodson (1888-1963), an important community leader in Wausau. After Ms. Woodson’s death, her three daughters worked together over a period of ten years to create this museum in their mother’s honor. One of the Woodson daughters, Alice Woodson Forester and her husband, John E. Forester, donated their home, which would become the museum in September, 1976. Since then, this remarkable art museum has expanded and has attracted many hundreds of thousands of people. Each fall, many people visit the museum for the unbelievably inspiring “Birds in Art” exhibition, which this year includes the works of 31 international artists, and 8 Wisconsin artists.

To say this exhibit is simply amazing would not do it justice. For those of us that love birds, these diverse renderings of our feathered friends (in pastel, water color, charcoal, oil, sculpture), will test your ability to believe that mere mortals can create such perfection and beauty. The art in this exhibition is every bit as compelling and impressive as art found in major museums around the world.

This relatively small museum packs quite a punch for having such a small footprint. In 2017, the Woodson Art Museum was honored by receiving a National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the nation’s highest museum honor for service to the community. The Woodson Museum competed with 123,000 other libraries and 35,000 museums nationwide. This particular museum was selected for its “significant and exceptional contributions” to its community.

The Woodson Museum’s web page states, “For 23 years, the award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families, and their communities. Each of the 2017 National Medal winners play a critical role as community catalysts and provide vital resources that drive economic development, foster community well-being and spark neighborhood revitalization.”

 They Didn’t Have to Do It

I just want to take a moment to recognize philanthropists, like the Woodsons, that create real impact in their community. Yes, they were clearly more privileged than most, however, they did not have to take this step and give this amazing legacy to the people of Wausau, to the State of Wisconsin and the entire region. Their generosity, vision and community spirit have impacted and inspired countless numbers of art lovers, nature lovers, and children. They did this for people they will never know.

After walking from one stunning, jaw-dropping, piece of art to another, I thought about the kernel of an idea that began among three sisters. When they started this endeavor, they probably had no idea how huge their impact would be. They could not foresee how their idea could ripple out to touch so many lives. This is the beauty of giving to your community. Some civic acts stay small, while others ripple out far beyond what you might have originally envisioned.

Most of us do not have the means to create a well-respected art museum. But we can do something small for the greater good, as our democracy requires of us. Instead of constantly bombarding yourself with an endless stream of bad news, why not take a risk and get involved in some way in your community that will feel good and hopeful? Endeavor to find some minor (or major) role to play – pick up some litter, plant a tree, talk to a neighbor, deliver meals, model democratic practices in your business, home, or congregation. Become involved in policy making in your community. And when you have finished, reward yourself by heading over to the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, and feast your eyes on the beauty of our flying friends. You won’t regret it.

For more information about the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, visit:


Painting above can be seen in the Birds in Art Exhibit. Artist is John C. Pitcher, “Peacefulness”.


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