A fifth generation Chicagoan, Debbie Korell grew up on the northwest side of the city. She attended college on the south side of Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Technology, majoring in Management with an Option in Information Technology. Debbie left no part of Chicago unexplored! She then headed to the western suburbs in the early 1990s, and following that, she met her future husband, Todd, at work in 1995. The two were wed in 1999.
While she called Chicago home, the Sarasota area always held a special place in Debbie’s heart. Having visited her aunt and uncle who lived in Bayshore Gardens, Debbie fondly reminisces about drives around St. Armand’s Circle in the late ‘60s. The Bayshore Gardens home was bequeathed to her parents, and in 1997, they retired to the beautiful home that had always brought their family such wonderful memories. In the summer of 2009, Debbie moved to the area to look after both of her parents as their health declined, Todd joined her in January of 2010.
Following her mother’s passing and the unexpected passing of her husband, Todd, Debbie and her father frequently attended shows at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall together. Debbie had been in search of a way to commemorate her late husband, a man that truly had a passion for the arts. Todd and Debbie had both played in their high school bands; they also enjoyed sharing season tickets to the theater in Chicago. When she learned she could name a seat at our hall, Debbie says she thought “this would be a wonderful way to memorialize him. In addition, I could select a seat that was where I would want to sit, and when I went to the shows, I could sit in his chair. I refer to it as sitting in his lap with his arms around me.”
Debbie’s involvement throughout the community is extraordinary and expansive; beyond her integral involvement here at the Van Wezel Foundation, she has also supported Mote Marine and the South Florida Museum. What really drove her to focus her philanthropic efforts with the Van Wezel Foundation was our commitment to the arts education of the youth. Disappointed to see schools make arts education less of a priority in their curriculums; Debbie hopes “for school age children to have a chance to see an afternoon performance by any of the artists, shows, ballets or symphony's that come to play in Sarasota.” Our Friend tells us that she has felt genuinely spoiled rotten with her membership at the foundation. However, we are the ones who feel spoiled to have a Friend who feels the same way as we do about the local youth and arts programs, emphasizing that “music and art touches the soul and sparks imagination and creativity!”