Through the tough times, Dottie Baer Garner uses philanthropy as a force for good and a pillar of strength.
Dottie Baer Garner carries a magazine cut-out in her medium-sized, well-organized purse. It’s neatly tucked into an inside pocket.
“It’s the last photo I have of the two of us,” she says. In the photo, she and her husband, Bob, are smiling for the camera at the Hospital Gala on Jan. 13.
The Garners were married for 64 years before Bob died March 28.
Throughout their time in the community, the Garners have been recognized as generous philanthropists. They were recently honored in the Jewish Housing Federation Council’s Eight over 80.
Baer Garner has been in Sarasota year-round for the past 20 years. Before that, she and Bob vacationed during the winter at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. It wasn’t long before the two got started in philanthropy, particularly in causes involving the arts, children and health. Her interest in art comes from Bob, who shared his art knowledge with his wife and the rest of their family.
Philanthopy has brought Baer Garner new friendships and a sense of community in Sarasota.
“All those events and committees bring people together, that to me, is an enhanced delight,” she says. “We learn from each other. I love that.”
Baer Garner comes from a philanthropic background, so getting involved has been second nature to her.
“My parents were always involved in philanthropy,” she says. “I grew up in a household where if you made your money in a community, we were taught to give back. So we gave back with our time.”
After becoming involved with several organizations, Baer Garner and her husband realized there was one thing missing in Sarasota: a contemporary art museum. From there, the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA) was born.
Together, the couple raised enough money to start building the museum, which is expected to open in the historic Sarasota High School building in 2019, Baer Garner says. SMOA, a division of Ringling College of Art and Design, will be an ever-changing platform for emerging artists to showcase their work.
This museum and her position as the chairwoman for the first SMOA gala, she says, is one of her proudest achievements as a philanthropist because it was the first of its kind.
In all, she has served on 11 boards and has chaired countless events and galas for organizations such as the Sarasota Ballet, Ringling College, the Van Wezel Foundation and the Sarasota Orchestra. But she doesn’t consider herself at the forefront of Sarasota’s philanthropy scene. Baer Garner says she prefers to be known as a team player rather than a leader.
“I love working with people, I don’t need the notoriety,” she says. “I just love the comradeship. I think being a team player is very important in the success of anything.”
As she ages, Baer Garner says her involvement is slowing down, but her interests aren’t going anywhere. She turns 85 May 6.
Philanthropy has gotten Baer Garner through many hard times, including the loss of her only son at the age of 32 and most recently, the loss of her husband.
“We always worked through them,” she says. “Nothing’s perfect.”
Baer Garner says that’s part of philanthropy’s purpose in her life. She says helping others is what keeps her navigating tough times.
“I find it very fulfilling to do what I’m able to do to help in this wonderful community of Sarasota,” she says. “No matter how small or how large, I want to be able to continue to be a part of helping … It keeps me going.”
Part of Baer Garner’s philosophy focuses on the fact that so much in life is out of our control, and taking action when you can is the best way of dealing with the ups and downs. She says she’ll continue her philanthropic work for as long as she can, because that’s what Bob would want her to do and that’s what they did throughout their marriage.
“I’m going to have to get used to a new normal,” Baer Garner says. “But that’s not going to affect how I feel about my community, my friends and my philanthropy.”
She’ll attend her first event since Bob’s passing, Sarasota YMCA’s Going for the Gold, with close friends on May 5. She says she’ll continue to attend fundraisers in the future.
“Life happens, you just have to ride along with it. It is what it is.”