Barbara Tucker, Arts Activist, Educator, and Fundraiser
Arts advocate, fundraiser, and fashion consultant Barbara (Bebe Lou) Tucker, a resident of the Detroit area for over 60 years, died peacefully on December 16, 2020 in Maumee, Ohio at the age of 98. She had sold her home in Bloomfield Hills. MI in 2012 and moved to Maumee to live with her daughter Pamela.
Barbara Tucker's influence, dedication, time, effort, energy, expertise, and financial resources were used in a way that touched so many concerned with the arts and fashion in both Michigan and across the United States. Many legislators and educators, agents and managers, musicians and conductors, composers, trustees and volunteers have been in some way been affected by her love, dedication, and expertise in music, education, fashion, non-profit charities, and fundraising.
Barbara was born in Des Moines IA to Louis and Harriet Muehle in July 1922.
She attended Iowa State University in Ames where she received her BS in Textiles and Fashion Design in 1943, and was Vice President of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority chapter. After graduating it was off to New York City to begin a career in the fashion industry, where she worked in copywriting and sales promotion for such national firms as Lord and Taylor and Best and Company.
While in New York, she met her husband Richard, a Detroit native, and they married in May 1952. They moved back to Detroit where Barbara put her career on hold until their daughter, Pamela, started school. At this time she began to use the name Barbara professionally because she, as she put it, got tired of having to explain that she was named for the 1920s movie star Bebe Daniels.
Once in Detroit, Barbara began a long career of voluntary service to the Detroit community in support of fashion and the arts. Her first venture was forming Barbara Tucker Associates, a fabric industry sales promotion group that worked with retail stores, fabric shops, schools, & suppliers on product presentation and the finer points of clothing construction. She taught dress design in the Detroit Adult Education program. She then joined the Detroit Fashion Group, became its Director, and became involved with Northwood University to guide the establishment of their Fashion Merchandising curriculum, now highly regarded nationally. For her efforts she was awarded Northwood's "Distinguished Women of the Year" award in 1992. She also chaired the Mary McFadden Benefit in 1984 to help establish a major costume collection at the Detroit Historical Society.
Concurrent with her involvement in the fashion world, and spurred on by her love of classical music, she began to evolve a more professional approach to the arts and volunteerism, considering the arts a business rather than a 'frill' of the elite. She became involved with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO)'s fund-raising volunteer arm, where she held multiple leadership positons. She was President of the Junior Women's Association for the DSO, and President of the Women's Association, and helped merge both into the DSO Volunteer Council. Under her leadership the fundraising efforts jumped from $12,000 a year to $70,000 a year. In 1964 Barbara was asked to be a Charter Member, representing the DSO as part of new national project of the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) in Washington DC. She served over 50 years in the interests of the ASOL, first as National President of the Volunteer Council, then as member of the ASOL Board of Directors.
She was on the Board of Trustees for the DSO Orchestra Hall, State President of the Michigan Orchestra Association, the National Women's Board of Northwood Institute, and Concerned Citizens for the Arts in Michigan, The Arts Foundation of Michigan, the Oakland County (MI) Cultural Council, and the Governors Arts Awards. She was Chair of the first "Crescendo Ball," a major fundraising event for the DSO. As Host Committee Chair she was instrumental in bringing the annual National Symphony Orchestra Conference to Detroit in 1986, and personally raised nearly $300,000 (in today's dollars) for the symphony. For this she received the "Ambassador Award" from the Detroit Convention Bureau.
Although her interests were primarily in the arts, other organizations benefitted from her attention and expertise in fundraising. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan and the Michigan Cancer Society were favorites, as was the American Red Cross. In the mid-90s, the Red Cross called upon Barbara to develop a major fundraising event, which became the "Rhapsody in Red." This effort raised over a million dollars for the Red Cross, and Barbara was awarded their prestigious "Paragon Award" for her efforts.
In addition to her other awards and honors, Barbara was given a Key to the City of Detroit by Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh for her extensive volunteer work with the DSO. She was listed on Who's Who of American Women. In 2013, she was awarded the Gold Baton from the Volunteer Council of the League of American Orchestras for 50 years of volunteer service.
Barbara and Richard also enjoyed throwing parties, and over the years hosted events in their home for the fashion designer Bill Blass, stage star Ethel Merman, dancer Robert Joffrey, pianist Cy Coleman, conductor Erich Leinsdorf, and composer Morton Gould.
Barbara was also an enthusiastic amateur artist. She studied painting extensively at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies, and later at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Association, studying with such well known teachers as Russell Keeter, Reva Schwayder, and Leslie Masters.
Barbara was preceded in death by Richard, her husband of 57 years; her parents Louis and Harriet Muehle of Des Moines, IA; her half-sister Ardelle Melin and her half-brother Rodney Melin, both of Cleveland, OH. She is survived by her daughter Pamela Blakley, son in law Girard, step-granddaughters Katie Blakley and Jennifer Stolfi, and four great step-grandchildren.
At the present time, no memorial is planned because of restrictions due to Covid19. Barbara Tucker's cremated remains will be divided and interred with her husband at the Great Lakes Memorial Cemetery in Holly MI, and with her parents in the Masonic Cemetery in Des Moines IA. Memorials may be sent to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Detroit. The Urbanski Funeral Home 5055 Secor Rd Toledo, Ohio has assisted the family with funeral arrangements.
Published in The Detroit News & Detroit Free Press from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, 2021.