ONE YEAR LATER: David and Catherine Straz
Editor’s note: We conducted this interview at the home of David and Catherine Straz two weeks before Mr. Straz’s passing on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. Like the Strazes themselves, the interview was heartfelt, full of laughter and a testimonial to their commitment to supporting arts and education. Below is the original story from the interview. We believe it preserves the generous spirit of the Strazes that has made this organization a living legacy of David A. Straz, Jr.’s passion for the performing arts as a vital expression of the full human experience.
This post is an exclusive reprint from the Winter 2020 milestones issue of the Straz Center’s INSIDE magazine. We’ve chosen to share this again now in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of the passing of David A. Straz, Jr. and to remind us all of Strazes extraordinary 2010 endowment gift that ensured future generations would have access to outstanding performances and arts education in the Tampa Bay area.
The arts are as much a part of the Strazes’ life as food and board meetings. Catherine, who grew up in Tampa, inherited a deep love and appreciation for the arts from her mother, who took Catherine to shows and concerts and was a drummer in the high school marching band. “For my 10th birthday, my mother took me to New York City,” Catherine says. “We went to Broadway, to The Met, to the museums. It made quite an impression on me; the whole experience was fabulous. My first Broadway show was seeing Ginger Rogers in Hello, Dolly!. The arts were just a part of my life from the beginning. I’m very grateful my mother and father shared that love with me.”
David spent his childhood immersed in the arts as well albeit in far-flung Milwaukee. “My parents were interested in the arts, and they exposed both my brother and me to the performing arts and arts in general,” says David. “So as I was growing up, I took piano lessons. That was obligatory in our family.” The Straz boys went through their paces with piano, and when their parents were satisfied with their musical progress, each boy got to choose an instrument of his own. “I picked the clarinet and joined our high school band,” David says. “I still have that clarinet even though I never put it together and play it anymore.” It’s a little-known fact that David Straz was both concert master and first-chair clarinet for that band, which served as the school’s orchestra. During his years growing up in Wisconsin, David also traveled to Bradenton, Fla., with his parents during the summer, an experience that would prove useful as an adult when he decided he’d had enough of Wisconsin winters.
In the early 1980s, he bought a bank in St. Pete Beach, got set up on a date with a beautiful, smart woman named Catherine Lowry, and it was during their engagement that David made his first significant philanthropic gift to Marquette University, his alma mater, at 38 years old. “I saw my parents’ philanthropic actions,” he says. “They believed you do things to lift up your community, that you get involved in community organizations to make the world a better place. I believe in education and the arts, so I give to organizations that strive to make a successful impact. I started giving back as soon as I could.”
In 2009, David and Catherine decided to demonstrate their commitment to supporting the arts for all with an endowment gift to what was then the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. “You know,” says Catherine, “you can certainly take a trip to New York to see shows if you have the means, but that’s not feasible for most people. We have the same caliber of shows coming right here, and it’s better for our community to be able to stay local, to involve kids in the arts at home and know that a place like The Straz is here for our grandkids and everybody’s grandkids.”
“It’s the ripple effect,” Catherine continues, “that happens with The Straz. You give to The Straz, which creates a program, which allows children to take classes, which inspires more people to give when they find out what great things are happening at the performing arts center. I like how many different people The Straz reaches. That inspires us to want to continue to be involved however we can because we want to help make our community the best it can be.”
“We love The Straz,” says David. “I like to feel like what we’re doing is making a difference. When we look at the number of education programs, the number of high-quality performances … we feel like we’re making a difference.”
Thank you David Straz and Catherine Lowry Straz for your continued support as philanthropists and patrons of the performing arts.