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How did nonprofits use M.C. Erny’s gifts to make a difference?

Ken Little
StarNews
M.C. Erny in Cape Fear Shakespeare’s production of Pericles, The Prince of Tyre. StarNews file photo

M.C. Erny in Cape Fear Shakespeare’s production of Pericles, The Prince of Tyre. StarNews file photo

Q. Did M.C. Erny’s gifts make a difference? How did these nonprofits use their windfalls?

A. M.C. Erny of Wilmington died on July 2, 2010, at age 63 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Erny’s M.C. Erny’s memory lives on in the community, thanks to her generous bequests to nonprofit organizations in the community.

Erny, who lived in Wilmington since the 1980s and was a well-known local actress, left $350,000 in her will to 10 non-profit agencies devoted to the arts, social services and animal welfare.

Here’s a look at the lasting legacy of Erny’s bequests:

One of the more significant impacts is at WHQR-FM in Wilmington, the area’s public radio outlet.

Erny designated $50,000 from her will to go to the radio station, one of the largest bequests.

WHQR continues to benefit in numerous ways, said Cleve Callison, station manager.

“The gift from M.C. Erny’s will made a real impact,” Callison said.

After learning of the bequest in the summer of 2011, the radio station’s board of directors discussed how make the most effective use of the money.

Some was designated “for equipment in powerful need of replacement,” as Callison put it.

Other money was used to fund a study to provide a “game plan” for future operation of WHQR, he said.

“A good portion funded an assessment to see not only what our needs were, but the capacity and willingness of our supporters and listeners to support the station if we were to do a capital campaign,” he said.

The study, by a consulting firm hired to do the assessment, “gave us some assurance that if we were to coordinate a capital campaign it would have a good chance at success,” Callison said.

That has proved the case with the ongoing “emPowering Our Future” campaign, launched in 2012. The multi-phase strategic plan for developing WHQR public radio “will serve to strengthen program services, engage the community in everything the station does, build a sustainable organization, and unleash the power of technology to benefit WHQR’s audience and the community,” according to the WHQR website.

Erny’s bequest “definitely has a lasting impact for WHQR into the future,” Callison said.

“It will improve our ability to deliver public service, both in the news and information field and also the arts,” Callison said.

Launching a second signal carrying classical music is in the works, along with “beefing up our local public service programming,” he said.

Significantly, the station is buying the building on Front Street it broadcasts from.

Erny volunteered as a receptionist for 15 years at WHQR and also assisted during fund drives.

“She was a very remarkable person. She had an unbounded love for arts organizations in the community,” Callison said.

Adopt An ANGEL, an area animal rescue and adoption center, received a bequest of $20,000 from Erny’s will.

“We were absolutely thrilled. We used the money to spay and neuter a lot of animals through our Spay A Stray campaign and to pay our enormous vet bill we have each month for all of the homeless animals we rescue,” said Jill Jones, Adopt an ANGEL treasurer.

The organization remains very grateful for the bequest.

Jones fondly recalls a Cape Fear River cruise outing with Erny’s daughters and representatives of other non-profits before the checks were distributed.

“Being part of this was a wonderful, thoughtful gift and the experience was one of the most memorable and gracious experiences of my life. She was a great, great person,” Jones said.

The Cat Adoption Team, which serves the Wilmington area, was another beneficiary of Erny’s will.

“We did get funding and we have used some of the money to give to another cat rescue group. It’s a voucher program for spray and neuter,” Tamar Gilad said.

Other funds from Erny’s bequest were used for an ongoing cat and dog rescue effort.

“We work with Columbus County Animal Control (to rescue animals) that otherwise would be euthanized,” Gilad said. “We reduced euthanasia there quite a bit. It’s a substantial tally.”

The Cat Adoption Team also became involved in dog adoption at Columbus County Animal Control, based on need, Gilad said.

Thanks in part to the bequest by Erny, 650 dogs and 400 cats were placed in loving homes in 2013, Gilad said.

Other funds from the bequest were used for pet supplies like cat litter and food.

“We need donations. Any donations like that are very, very helpful,” Gilad said.

Erny, whose death in 2010 ended a five-year battle with cancer, left a sizable bequest to the American Cancer Society.

“The American Cancer Society is very grateful for M.C. Erny’s bequest, which has been used to support the society’s programs of research, education, advocacy and service to cancer patients,” said Kari Dahlstrom, a Charlotte-based American Cancer Society spokeswoman.

“The American Cancer Society has been part of every major cancer discovery over the past several decades and the Erny bequest helped to support these critical research efforts,” Dahlstrom said.

Programs the ACS offer locally include Road To Recovery, which provides free rides to cancer treatment for patients who otherwise have no way to get there and might miss their treatments; Reach To Recovery, which provides support to newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients; and Look Good Feel Better, which teaches women techniques to deal with side effects of cancer treatment.

“Ms. Erny and her family should be very proud of the impact that her gift has made through the American Cancer Society, as well as the other community organizations which meant so much to her,” Dahlstrom said.

Other organizations receiving bequests from Erny’s will include the Eastern North Carolina region of the American Red Cross.

The $20,000 bequest helped fund a variety of programs offered by the American Red Cross in the Wilmington area.

“Those funds were used to support our local programs and services,” spokeswoman Autum Mihm said.

Another beneficiary was Big Dawg Productions, a Wilmington-based theatre company.

“Big Dawg was very happy to receive the full amount left to us by M.C. Erny and we have used it to make some improvements to our theatre,” said Samantha Jessup, vice president and publicity manager for Big Dawg Productions.

Two other bequests by Erny went to the New Hanover County Humane Society and the Humane Society of the United States. The Orange Street Potters group, which operates out of the Hannah Block Community Arts Center, also received a bequest, as did the annual Shakespeare on the Green program at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater.

Tony Rivenbark, executive director for the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, said Erny, who acted onstage at Thalian Hall in many productions, was generous to the organization before her passing.

“She did make a significant gift to the Thalian Hall Capital Campaign while she was still living. Her gift was honored by the naming of the Actors Green Room in her memory for the most recent renovation and restoration of the auditorium, which was completed in 2010,” Rivenbark said.

RELATED LINKS:

Which nonprofits are located in the Harrelson Center?

Are the employees of the Wilmington chapter of the American Red Cross unionized. If so, why?

 

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