Madison couple generously support Overture Center’s youth programs

Local Legends pledge to support the arts
Madison couple generously support Overture Center’s youth programs
Photo by Larry Chua

A centuries-old Buddhist tradition compels recent graduates of monasteries to rely on the food given to them by strangers during their travels. Familiar with the ritual in Hong Kong where he grew up, Jun Lee says he assumed the spiritual practice “was to teach [the monks] humility.” But Lee, a Madison resident for more than 50 years, says he came to understand that by accepting gifts of food willingly, “The monks are doing something that gives other people the chance to do good.”

That’s the philosophy that Lee, a structural engineer, shared when he and his wife Sandy were publicly thanked last March by the Overture Center for the Arts for becoming Local Legends–supporters who had pledged $100,000 to Overture Center’s 2017 spring fundraising match campaign.

“That is the motivation of most givers. Yes, you are consciously doing it for other people, but ultimately you’re doing it for yourself,” Jun says from the couple’s home on the near west side of Madison.

Around a grand piano in their spacious living room, the Lees frequently host parties with performances by musicians they’ve come to admire and support, like Wisconsin-born and internationally renown opera singer Kitt Reuter-Foss and the young Madison pianist Jessica Chow. Jun himself sings at these soirees, favoring Schubert and Chinese songs.

The Lees grew up in Hong Kong but met as University of Wisconsin-Madison students in the 1960s–when they couldn’t afford tickets to live performances. As president of SRI Design Inc. for more than 30 years, Jun worked on large building projects on the UW campuses of Eau Claire, La Crosse and River Falls.

The Lees know their support for Overture Center–and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra–is dwarfed by the $205 million that Jerry Frautschi and his wife Pleasant Rowland gave to create Overture Center. “Their philanthropy is without comparison in Madison,” Jun says admiringly.

The Lees were persuaded to back Overture Center programming, such as busing in school children to see live performances and honoring the state’s best high school musical theater through the Tommy Awards.

“If we can make a small difference that creates an opportunity for somebody else, the amount of good feelings we get is tremendous,” Jun says.

Overture Center’s Other 2017 Local Legends

Jun and Sandy Lee, along with a handful of other couples and a local company, became Overture Center for the Arts 2017 Local Legends by pledging a combined $500,000 and challenging others to support the private nonprofit Overture Center. The fundraising match campaign ran through mid June.

The other 2017 donors are Exact Sciences Corp., Judith and Nick Topitzes and two anonymous couples. The Local Legends, recognized since 2013, also include Jim and Sue Bakke, Diane Endres Ballweg, Jim Imhoff and Kitty Kuhl, Jonathan and Susan Lipp, Tom and Peggy Pyle, Ron and Deborah Krantz, Joe and Mary Ellyn Sensenbrenner, Bea and Lau Christensen, Dianne Christensen, MGE Foundation and the Kelly Family Foundation.

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.