Paying it forward: LBC donors Jeff and Barbara Ireland turn a passion for music and community into a legacy of joy
A passion for music can originate from many places. Early piano lessons. Playing in the school band. A parent who plays an instrument. Or hearing an especially talented artist. On the other hand, the instinct to be of service to the community can often come from one source: the people in your childhood who help shape your values. Luckily for Jeff and Barb Ireland, family gave them plenty of both.
Coming from humble beginnings, Jeff and Barb are sensitive to the hardship of families in their community. Recognizing that many – especially children – have limited access to music and arts education, which they consider essential to quality of life, Jeff and Barb find a sense of purpose in helping expand it. After many years of working together to improve their own circumstances, they decided to take their giving one step further, making the ultimate gesture to include Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in their estate plans. Their commitment to providing children with a lifelong joy of the arts is so deeply heartfelt, they want it to outlast them.
Jeff and Barb discovered the LBC shortly after moving to Santa Rosa from Southern California in 2007. As a Bob James fan “since forever,” Jeff discovered Fourplay was performing here. Shortly after that concert, they enjoyed a tour of LBC, including the backstage. “I would say it helped us understand how performances were managed and the real work that LBC does, which is the education and teaching of children,” said Jeff. After that, they started paying closer attention to LBC’s Education and Community Engagement programs. Their belief in the importance of arts education, however, started a lot earlier than that – and a lot closer to home.
It’s more than the music
“We both learned to appreciate musical talent in our church upbringing. It was hymns and church music every week. Also, my father was a minister, so of course we had to be at church every time the doors opened.” Barb started piano lessons in third grade, and, by fifth grade, she started playing flute for her school band. She continues to play both instruments today. Jeff played trombone in junior high and high school then taught himself the guitar in college. Jeff’s mother played the piano, and his sister was a pianist and taught music to school children. When Barb and Jeff met in 1977, one of the first questions she asked him was, “What kind of music do you like?”
“We would probably not be the people we are today without an upbringing that gave us our passion for music,” said Jeff.
Barb and Jeff married in 1979. They lived in student housing while Jeff finished his engineering degree and Barb worked on campus. They continued to participate in musical programs at their church. Eventually, they passed on their music appreciation to their children and now their three granddaughters who live nearby. They take the girls to performances at LBC and encourage their music education. “We’re trying to instill in them an appreciation for the arts,” said Jeff.
“It’s more than the music,” said Barb. “We’ve watched our granddaughter play piano and guitar, and as she’s gotten better, she’s become more confident. It gives them self-esteem to accomplish something challenging like that. So, if kids can’t play soccer or football, maybe they have a talent for music, and that makes them more self-assured to try something else that’s hard.”
Arts education becomes a roadmap to serve
Those intangible benefits of arts education were not lost on Barb and Jeff as they worked together to build a more comfortable life than the families who struggled to make it possible for them.
Barb’s great grandfather immigrated from Sweden to the remote parts of Minnesota, were he lived outdoors while building a log cabin for his family. That modest beginning led to a better one for the next generation, which led to Barb’s father, who was a buyer for a refrigeration company in Minneapolis.
Jeff’s ancestors also immigrated to America. His father’s father was a carpenter. His mother’s father was a sharecropper. As a minister, Jeff’s father made a small salary and served his congregation “morning and night.” When he presided over weddings, he took what they could pay him and handed it to the bride.
“They came from meager backgrounds,” said Barb. “They didn’t have money to provide much for their own families, but that didn’t mean they weren’t philanthropic. They gave plenty of themselves.”
“We learned how to do hard things. We learned to be economical and save. Above all, the importance of helping others was a powerful value they passed down to us, and, through us, to our children and our grandchildren. It is such a big part of who we are, and passing it on has become a joy for Barb and me,” said Jeff.
From their passion for the arts, a gift to outlast them
The values that the Irelands learned from parents who focused on helping others and hard work taught them to make the most of opportunities that helped them build a better life.
“We started our marriage in a cinder block student housing building,” said Jeff. “But living frugally was not new to us, and we managed just fine. I remember one Friday after dinner, Barb said, ‘Let’s go get an ice cream cone.’ Well, neither of us had any money, so we broke into a piggy bank where we kept loose change and got out a dime. Then we walked to the ice cream shop and shared a cone.”
Early in his career, Jeff got a job with Medtronic, a leader in global medical device technology, where he worked for 30 years, while Barb moved from office work to taking care of their children, parents, and grandparents. They lived modestly, not because they had to but because they were comfortable. They spent less than Jeff made and saved the rest, which gave them something to give to others in need. It was less of a savings plan and more of a giving plan.
Benefitting from Medtronic’s financial success, in 2014 Jeff put his company shares into a charitable remainder trust, and that set them on the path of planned giving. When he was offered a retirement package a few years later, the Irelands realized they could do even more. They could continue to live comfortably and take care of their family, while also creating something important that would outlast them, something to honor their upbringing and their love of the arts and community. The LBC is one of eight nonprofit organizations listed as beneficiaries in their trust.
“For us, to be of service means making something better for someone else, the way our families made life better for us.”