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Founding Members of the Friends of the Kennedy Center Volunteer Program

The Friends of the Kennedy Center was founded by Lily Polk Guest as a membership and volunteer organization in 1965 and was approved by the National Committee of the Board of Trustees on December 8, 1965. Then a nationwide volunteer organization, its purpose was to develop activities and programs to focus attention on the Center, its purposes and plans. The first volunteer assignment for the Friends was to raise the matching funds for the construction of the Kennedy Center. The friends profiled here are Founding members and continue to provide service to the Kennedy Center today. For more information on the Friends of the Kennedy Center please call (202) 416.8320 or click visit the Friends of the Kennedy Center web site.

Betty Brown
Betty Brown has volunteered since 1971.

Betty Brown was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she worked as a nurse and a nursing teacher. She and her husband moved to Washington DC in 1961, where she decided to take a break from nursing and focus on her passions: music, history, and the fine arts. She plays the french horn and has been active in a local orchestra for over 24 years.

Betty and her husband became supporters of the Kennedy Center in 1968, and Betty started volunteering her time in 1971 - right at the Center's opening! She possesses the prestigious title of "founding member." She was one of the first volunteers to give tours of the facility and continues to give tours today - 30 years later! She remembers the tours as being very well attended with some reaching 75 to over 100 participants. Sometimes she would have to use a bullhorn so that everyone could hear her. Back then, she recalls, there weren't any gift shops in the Center, and the tour guides themselves were in charge of selling small souvenirs.

Betty is very proud of the Kennedy Center, its performances, its short history, and its mission. Memorable performances include Leonard Bernstein's Mass, Ibsen's A Doll's House, and Handel's Ariodante conducted by Julius Rudel. She believes that a nation's capital should be the nation's cultural center and the Kennedy Center is paramount to this belief in that it brought world-class dance, theater, opera, and music to Washington, DC. She still enjoys giving tours because she gets to meet people from all over the world, and she is proud to witness people falling in love with the Center on a daily basis. She's made some of her closest friends through the Kennedy Center's Friends/Volunteers program and encourages interested patrons to get involved.

Geri Lewis
Geri Lewis has volunteered since 1968.

Geri (far left) attends a gala opening event in 1971.

Geri Lewis was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin - Madison where she studied speech and drama. She married Gilbert Lewis in 1955, and moved to Washington, DC and now has three children and four grandchildren.

Geri was originally a member of the Service Guild of Washington, DC which provided twelve volunteers to the Kennedy Center during the Center's construction. She worked in a trailer just outside the construction site where she would show people a model of what the Kennedy Center was going to look like and give updates on construction progress and future plans. Geri fondly remembers the Tom Sawyer Fence Project in which each state made panels to adorn the construction fence. She also spoke on the Center's behalf all over Washington, DC.

Just before the Kennedy Center's opening, Geri conducted hardhat tours for performers and other VIPs. At the Kennedy Center's opening, Geri attended a ball dedicated to the ambassadors from countries, such as Austria, Japan, and Canada, that gave gifts to the Center. She became one of the first tour guides at the Center and is considered a "founding member." Geri has given tours to heads of state, royalty, as well as politicians and notable people from around the world. Not only has she continually given tours for the past 30 years, but she spent 10 years giving tours of the city of Washington, DC itself. Geri enjoys the Center immensely, and believes in the importance of its mission and outreach.

Sallie Meltze
Meltzer has volunteered since 1971.

Sallie Meltzer was born and raised in Wisconsin, and she attended Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. There she became involved with theater and music, and met her husband who shared her passion. She recalls their first dates as sitting in the "peanut gallery" for theater, music, and opera performances. She and her husband moved to Washington, DC in 1946, and were shocked with the lack of culture and proper venues. This was one of the reasons she decided to support the Kennedy Center as a volunteer in 1971.

Sallie toured the Kennedy Center as part of a hardhat tour before its doors opened in 1971. She is considered a "founding member" of the Center, and at its opening she volunteered at the front desk selling souvenirs. Soon after the opening she became one of the first tour guides at the Kennedy Center, and she has always enjoyed the influx of people and interest in the Center and its mission. She has taken groups from all over the world on tours of the Center, including military groups, diplomatic corps, and once a joint tour with visitors from two battling nations! She has organized parties attended by such greats at Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Stapleton, and Alma Powell.

Sallie recalls such memorable performances as the Kennedy Center debut of the Bolshoi Opera in which live animals were used! She has been involved in organizing volunteers' events including a welcome party for former Kennedy Center chairman Jim Wolfenson. She has also represented the Kennedy Center's Friends/Volunteers program at such events as the National Volunteers week at the National Gallery.