Going over the edge

·4 min read

Oct. 16—ANDERSON — At age 91, Barbara Cox still considers herself a thrill seeker. And as patrons of the arts, she and her sister have been involved with the Anderson Museum of Art for many years.

So perhaps it wasn't such a farfetched decision for the retired Anderson resident to sign up to rappel down the side of the First Merchants Bank building downtown during Over The Edge, the museum's unique fundraising event planned for next Saturday.

"It's something that I look forward to," Cox said during a recent event previewing the fundraiser at the museum . "I won't deny that it frightens me to a certain extent, but I think that if I can do the other stuff that I've done recently, then I can do this."

Cox recently suffered a stroke, but a recent trip to Alaska and some coaxing from her sister Sandy French convinced her to take the plunge. She's also zip lined and gone tubing recently, but she quickly shrugged off a comparison to former President George H.W. Bush, who celebrated his 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane in 2014.

"She likes all that crazy stuff," said French, 79, who also will strap in for the 10-story drop. "They'll probably have to kick me off the roof. It's just that first step. But that kind of stuff doesn't bother my sister."

The idea for Over The Edge, according to museum executive director Mandee Mikulski, came from Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. Winkler serves on the museum's board of trustees and, when he lived in Las Vegas, enjoyed climbing and rappelling.

"It was something that I hoped we'd be able to do as an organization," Winkler said. "It was something I kind of promoted to the board over a period of time."

Mikulski, who succeeded Deborah Stapleton as the museum's executive director in 2020, and the rest of the board quickly bought in, and the result was a goal of recruiting 80 willing participants who would each raise $1,000 toward current and near future expenses for the museum.

"Our goal is to elevate the arts in Anderson," Mikulski said. "There's nothing more you can do to elevate than go to the top of a building and rappel down, right? We're just kind of following that theme, and we have lots of plans in motion to make that happen in Anderson, and we think that's just going to be a great kickoff."

A Canadian company, Over the Edge, will provide the equipment for the rappel. Winkler added that an abundance of safety protocols will be in place to assure safe trips down the side of the building for everyone who participates.

"It brings you a lot closer to your creator when you lean over the edge and trust that rope," Winkler said. "At the same time I would tell you that you're probably safer on the end of that rope than you are driving down I-69."

Board member Kris Zinszer, who also chairs the board of directors for the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said the fundraiser represents an outside-the-box approach for the museum, and Mikulski's leadership has been a key element in those efforts.

"She has certainly changed the dynamic," Zinszer said. "We've had a great history with how we fundraise and our existence in the community, but she's brought a youthful energy and a change in perspective that I know the staff is appreciating, and the public at large. We certainly are fundraising differently than we have."

Mikulski said that as of Wednesday, the individual campaigns for participants — or "edgers" — have collectively raised about $23,500. Corporate sponsorships, and private donations have also brought in several thousand dollars toward the overall $80,000 goal.

"We rely heavily on our investments," Mikulski said. "We are trying to turn that around and have just an operating budget that is fully funded with memberships and from donations and from our programming, that way we can keep the museum going for many, many years. That's one of our goals with the money, and also just to help with current expenses that we have."

Next Saturday's event will include a block party with vendors, live music and other family-friendly activities. In addition to going over the side himself, Zinszer said he plans on volunteering and recruiting others to do the same.

"I'm going to go early, make it down the side of the building and then see if we can promote the event. I'm looking forward to completion, to conquering fears," he said with a laugh.

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