Rising to the Challenge
by Rachel Perry
When she heard of the opening at the Brown County Community Foundation, Lisa Terry was intrigued. Ready to re-locate, she applied for the job. “I thought this would be a really good match for me,” she said. “I love the arts. I know more about performing arts, but am learning about visual arts. I wanted to show the community that I am committed so I came in, bought a house, and rolled up my sleeves. I want to make this work, and make this foundation the absolute best that it can be.”
Lisa Terry experienced a life-changing event while still a senior in high school. And her dreams to major in theater at Northwestern evaporated in a few frightening moments.
Riding in a car with friends to Lafayette from her hometown of Logansport, Lisa was in a terrible accident. Two of her friends were killed and her own survival meant seven months of hospitalization and years of corrective surgery. “At the time I was most worried about a big part I had landed in the senior play,” she laughed. “All my doctors were in Lafayette so I ended up going to Purdue. And taking theater at Purdue was like taking neurosurgery at Ivy Tech. I lasted there for two years.”
Raised in a family of three girls, Lisa was “the oldest, the cutest, the tallest and the smartest,” she quipped. Her father traveled throughout the Midwest as a self-employed bank auditor. Lisa’s parents divorced when she was in the fifth grade and her mother later became known for her success as a travel agent.
After leaving Purdue, Lisa reluctantly attended dental hygiene school in Fort Wayne. She returned to Logansport and, despite other plans, ended up working for a dentist for almost ten years. Her salvation became her participation in Community Theater, where she her involvement with children’s theater led to writing kids’ plays.
Lisa met her ex-husband at Indiana Beach, “Riviera of the Midwest,” where he managed a ski show. For a few years, he took over her father’s auditing business, but later took advantage of an opportunity to work for his brother-in-law. The young couple and their three-year-old daughter moved to Braidenton, Florida, and shortly after their arrival, a son was born.
Lisa again took a job working for a dentist. “That’s when I got into this tooth fairy thing,” she recalled. “I wore this beautiful costume and went around to all the schools and day care centers, and talked about dental health. It was a great marketing tool because everyone wanted to go where the tooth fairy lived.
“Then I had the idea to start a children’s theater,” she continued. “We called it Born to Act, and I learned all about the non-profit world. The kids were trained in acting skills, hands-on stage movement, and audition techniques. A lot of them had agents and did commercials for Disney or Bush Gardens.”
Leveraging the success of her children’s theater, Lisa developed a local cable television show called, Kids, Kids, Kids! Still writing plays, she contracted with schools, using performing arts to teach about Aids, teen pregnancy, and smoking. “I did all that for ten years and took my kids with me everywhere. My son still complains about having to wear tights in theater productions,” she admitted.
“Florida’s a great place to raise adults but not necessarily a great place to raise your kids,” Lisa commented. “At the time the Florida schools had the biggest drop-out rate in the nation. There were a lot of transients and no consistency. . . When they started patrolling my daughter’s middle school with dogs and guns looking for drugs, we decided we were out of there.”
Lisa’s husband started looking for jobs when they got a call from Rochester. Thinking it was New York, she eagerly pressured him to accept. “But it turned out to be Rochester, Indiana, only twenty minutes from where we started out!” Disinclined to work again as a dental hygienist, on a whim Lisa applied for the job of Logansport Parks Administrator. Two interviews later, she was astonished to be offered the position to manage 17 various city parks, including an 18-hole golf course and Olympic-sized swimming pool.
“It was very challenging,” she admitted. “I was the first female Department Head in a very ‘good-ole-boy’ environment.” Under Lisa’s leadership the parks thrived and initiated many new programs, including hosting the Indianapolis Symphony, offering theater workshops, organizing Breakfast with the Easter Bunny, and partnering with local arts groups. Lisa’s high-profile management garnered local support and talk of her running for Mayor.
“Just at that time, though, the Lilly Endowment was coming out with a gift initiative and I wanted to get on that board to possibly benefit the parks,” Lisa recalled. “As I got involved and learned of the opportunities, the fledgling foundation decided to hire a full-time administrator. So I applied and got that job.” After several reorganizations of the Northern Indiana Foundation, involving up to five counties, the Cass County contingent decided to separate. Lisa then spent four years as the CEO of the Cass County Community Foundation.
If you wish to find out more about the Brown County Community Foundation and how you can help Lisa Terry rise to the challenge, call 812-988-4882.