Tracking the Turner effect – Local leaders reflect on the impact Sue Turner has had on their organizations

Sue Turner’s work with the Louisiana Art & Science Museum began as a Junior League project but quickly grew into a passion. In addition to her hands-on service, she and her late husband Bert offered financial support that helped to build the museum’s art collection and led to the renovation of the Illinois Central Railway Station building and the dedication of the Bert S. Turner Family Atrium.

“It is impossible to think of LASM’s history without highlighting Mr. and Mrs. Bert Turner,” says LASM President and Executive Director Carol Gikas. “Sue has been my mentor, my friend and, if she would so allow, a surrogate mother at times. We have respect, appreciation and love for each other.”

Sue and Bert Turner supported the LSU Museum of Art for decades, but their patronage was really felt during the museum’s transformation from a small on-campus facility to a spacious new downtown site in the Shaw Center in 2005. Their pledged donation led to the naming of the Bert and Sue Turner Gallery on the Shaw Center’s third floor, and Sue chaired the advisory board during the transition period, notes former museum Executive Director Laura Lindsay.

“Her presence and guidance were extraordinary during this phase,” Lindsay says. “She continually impresses me with her mastery of group leadership skills, her ability to express herself in a meaningful and succinct manner, and her poise under any conditions. She has an uncanny ability to quickly grasp a situation and get to the heart of an issue.”

Both graduates of LSU, Sue and Bert Turner never forgot their alma mater, generously giving to many campus entities over the years. But their influence on the School of Music can be heard as well as seen: The Bert and Sue Turner Tiger Band Rehearsal Room opened earlier this year, giving the band its first indoor practice space large enough to hold the whole group. It was an especially meaningful contribution for Bert, who was part of the band during his college days and who is counted among a prestigious group of band alumni.

“The contributions and influence of Bert and Sue Turner have been significant in cultivating, nurturing and supporting the performing arts in Baton Rouge,” says LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts Dean Laurence Kaptain. “It’s exciting for me to attend early rehearsals of the Tiger Band in its new rehearsal hall, to look at the faces of those students and imagine which ones will become leaders in government, business, education or the arts.”

The leaders of the BREC Foundation felt so strongly about Sue Turner’s work on BREC’s behalf that its board members nominated her for the Golden Deeds Award that she received in 2009. BREC Foundation Executive Director Carl Stages cited her longtime work with the group, beginning with the fight to save Magnolia Mound in the 1960s and continuing with her service on the foundation’s board of directors.

“Sue Turner’s activism has melded together the tapestry of the past with the hope and progress of the future,” Stages wrote in the award nomination. “She has truly made our community a better place.”

Construction is slated to begin soon on a new Magnolia Mound visitors center, funded in part by a donation by Turner’s family. The facility will feature a small theater as well as space for receptions and exhibitions, all within a unique design that will include details like glass walls and an eco-friendly grass roof.

When the music swelled on the grounds of Nottoway Plantation at BRSO’s 2010 Swingin’ on the Levee event, longtime symphony supporter Sue Turner had a special reason to smile: The program was put on in honor of her “commitment to the cultural well-being of the community.”

“She’s a very special and a very humble person,” explains BRSO President and Executive Director Alan Hopper. “When we decided to recognize people in the community who have provided outstanding leadership in the arts, she was the first one we chose.”