2010 Women of Influence: Barbara Gartner
Saturday, July 31, 2010 7:00 AM
Many times, it's not the cause that pulls Barbara Gartner into an organization; it's the people. "I treasure friends more than anything," she said, "and often, somebody I like and admire gets me involved."
But there is a catch, one factor that always seals the deal. "Everything has to have a 'kid' element," she said. "I especially love working with kids."
This path has led to all kinds of community involvement. A native of Chappaqua, N.Y., Gartner became a Des Moines resident in 1974 when her husband, Michael, returned to his hometown to become the editor and president of The Des Moines Register. In the years since, she has been part of causes ranging from Orchard Place to Des Moines Metro Opera; she has been a fund-raiser across Central Iowa and a volunteer dog-washer in Hawaii.
A letter nominating Gartner for Women of Influence honors included this from former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson: "Barbara Gartner is the most sought-after volunteer I know. And for good reason. She is a committed board member who attends all meetings prepared to: (1) discuss and engage in the board's business; (2) ask tough questions; and (3) seek innovative solutions."
Gartner has shared this approach with many and varied organizations, including Simpson College, the Des Moines Art Center, The Homestead, Orchard Place, Des Moines Metro Opera, Habitat for Humanity, Iowa Radio Reading Information for the Blind and Print Handicapped, the Des Moines Playhouse and Hospice of Central Iowa.
She just came off the Des Moines Public Library Foundation board, but is still helping with this year's fund-raising event. She continues as a trustee at Simpson and as a member of the Art Center board, where, according to Director Jeff Fleming, she demands "a degree of integrity that is infectious. The institution is a better place because of her involvement."
Gartner is also quite active in her church, Central Presbyterian. She served several terms on the Session, the church's governing board, and continues to lead Community Spotlight, a program that brings in Sunday morning guest speakers on a range of topics.
In general, though, she's intentionally cutting back a bit. Travel can interfere with organization plans, and "I don't like to miss board meetings," Gartner said. "I will always be a volunteer - it's in my blood - but on a more modest level."
Also, she noted, "I don't want to do any more big fund-raising projects; you get to the point where people groan when you call."
You can do a lot to help without asking for money, though, and she found ways to branch out and help another community during her winters in Hawaii. She volunteers at Hawaii Canines for Independence, a program that provides service, companion and therapy dogs. Also, her family donated toward the establishment of a visual arts center for children on Maui. That connection came about after the Gartners lost a son, Christopher, in 1994.
The ideal next step in the process, of course, is to keep the involvement going for another generation. "We have tried to raise our kids to be aware of giving to those in need or to things that will improve the community," Gartner said. "And we have tried to instill that it's fun."
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Southern California
Hometown: Chappaqua, N.Y.
Family: Husband, Mike; daughter Melissa and son Mike; another son, Christopher, died in 1994
Favorite hobby: Reading
Favorite quotation: "I cannot live without books." - Thomas Jefferson