For the Kessler Family, Giving to The Straz Means Upholding Tradition

Siblings Bob, Larry and Susan Kessler follow a family tradition of supporting the Straz Center that started with their parents, Walter and Leonore.

The sister-brothers team of Bob, Larry and Susan Kessler comes from a line of civic-minded people in Tampa that stretches back to the late 1800s. Their great-grandparents supported social causes and helped organize certain religious organizations that continue to thrive in Tampa to this day.

With this example, their grandparents continued to involve Kesslers in social improvements and philanthropy, so when it came time to dig in and get a performing arts center off the ground in Tampa, Bob, Larry and Susan’s parents rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

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Walter and Leonore “Lee” Kessler, like their parents and grandparents, believed in community involvement as the path to community improvement. Both of them were founding donors to The Straz, and Lee actively participated in the founding campaign and other Straz events. Both Walter and Lee adored Broadway shows. From the very first Broadway show to the end of his life, Walter held multiple sets of season tickets so he and his loved ones would always have a seat at the great musicals. Lee, sadly, passed a few years after the opening of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (TBPAC), to be named later the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

“I still remember attending Cats, the first Broadway show at [then] TBPAC, with both my parents,” says Susan Kessler. “Every year, as soon as the new season schedule was announced, my dad immediately reached out to us to make sure that we had the show dates on our calendars.”

Susan and Larry, with their respective spouses and families, were woven into the fabric of The Straz, as they were with many civic organizations in this area thanks to the leadership of their family. Bob relocated out of town but continues to support the Kesslers’ contributions to The Straz. “My parents, like their parents and grandparents before them, were committed to making Tampa a better place; and, helping to found the TBPAC, a showplace venue for premier cultural events, was a natural extension of their commitment to the community and to the improvement of the city,” Susan says. “I think this multi-generational family tradition of civic involvement and philanthropy helped ‘set the stage’ – so to speak – of my, Bob’s and Larry’s interest in continuing our family’s connection with and donations to The Straz.”

The Kessler crew enjoyed long years of dinner and a show at The Straz. Of course, life is about change, and the time would come when Walter would have to pass the traditions to his children. “As my father got older, and it became increasingly difficult for him to leave his home, he nevertheless made the extra effort to go to The Straz for the shows. It was something that he really looked forward to. As did we,” Susan recounts.

After Walter died, Bob, Larry and Susan decided to continue the family’s philanthropic support of The Straz by donating in honor of their parents. “Considering our family’s long history of civic and philanthropic involvement, my parents’ support for and commitment to the founding of The Straz, my father’s love of seeing Broadway shows and the many, many opportunities that we had to spend quality time with my father – and for a few short years, my mother, too – it seemed fitting that we continue to support The Straz,” Susan says. “We are pleased to continue the philanthropic tradition of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We proudly donate to The Straz as a tribute to our parents, Walter and Lee.”

We are thrilled to know we are a part of a family legacy, and we are especially pleased to know that Walter and Lee Kessler continue to be remembered and honored for their contributions to the cultural home for all people in the Tampa Bay region. Thank you, Bob, Larry and Susan, for everything you do to make the work of The Straz possible.

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