Pro Bene Meritis 2013
The Pro Bene Meritis Award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. First granted in 1984, it is given each spring to alumni, faculty and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits or have participated in service related to the college.
Jeanne and Michael Klein are both graduates of the university and have devoted much of their adult life to philanthropy in support of their alma mater and causes promoting the liberal arts, including UT Elementary, Blanton Museum of Art and Humanities Texas. The Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Austin honored the Kleins for their outstanding philanthropy in support of Central Texans.
Hometown: Michael Klein, Kansas City, Mo.; and Jeanne Klein, Amarillo, Texas
Custodians of the arts: We have been involved in the visual arts for more than 30 years, principally by collecting and supporting museums and artists. We view ourselves as custodians of the art that we collect (modern and contemporary) and will donate the collection to a museum in the future. Several of our other interests are history, books and education, which we experience by being active at the Ransom Center, Blanton Museum, UT Press, College of Education, Humanities Texas and The Contemporary Austin.
Art matters: It serves as nourishment for the soul, opens our eyes to the world allowing us to see things that we wouldn’t otherwise observe, both good and bad. Mrs. Dominique DeMenil, who was our greatest influence, believed that artists are the chroniclers of our times, expressing contemporary ideas and preserving them for future generations. We only acquire works of art that we are passionate about. As a consequence the work of every artist is special and of equal importance to us, whether by an emerging or established artist.
The Eyes of Texas (JK): My grandfather, Louis Johnson, co-authored The Eyes of Texas. I have great memories of being on the field at Memorial Stadium with my father and uncle to present the original manuscript to the university. My entire family feels such pride every time we hear it played and we are honored to be a part of the history of the university.
Making the grade at UT Elementary (MK): I’m very active at UT Elementary School, which serves Pre-K – fifth grade students in an economically disadvantaged area of East Austin. I interact closely with the kids by assisting fourth and fifth grade teachers with math and social studies. One of my greatest joys has been in establishing a close relationship with many of the kids that I have worked with, starting in first grade.
There is no greater feeling than walking onto the campus and getting hugs and high fives from these kids. I recently received a letter from a student telling me that I changed her life by teaching her how to read. Another fourth grader wrote me to thank me for being his best friend. Their display of gratitude and affection, which is mutual, is my greatest return on investment.
Making the investment: Our greatest satisfaction is actually participating in the organizations and causes that we support. We wish to have a voice in their operation and direction so as to be integrally involved in their success.
Dream job: We have frequently discussed what we’d like to be doing other than what we’re doing now. Each of us would like to be educators as we believe this is the most vital profession. (MK) I would like to teach fourth grade. (JK) I would like to teach Art History from 1960 to the present, at the college level.