Robert and Ardis James Foundation Donates $250,000 for NWCC Endowment

Literature enthusiasts from across the country who visit the National Willa Cather Center can look forward to new experiences—in Cather’s hometown of Red Cloud and virtually—thanks to the ongoing work of the Willa Cather Foundation’s Campaign for the Future.

The Robert and Ardis James Foundation has made a $250,000 gift to the Foundation’s endowment. Annual net income from the endowment will be used to expand educational and arts programming. Increasing the Willa Cather Foundation’s endowment by $1.5 million is one of four goals of the Campaign for the Future, which also seeks to make much needed capital improvements to seven Willa Cather historic sites, introduce new exhibits and site interpretation, and invest in adaptive reuse of a downtown building into a boutique hotel to ensure visitors can fully immerse themselves in Cather’s Red Cloud.

Speaking for the Robert and Ardis James Foundation, Ralph James referenced a desire to encourage people of any age to use their creative energy. “Part of what we want to do is inspire people to produce meaningful and beautiful work,” he said. This aligns with the Willa Cather Foundation’s mission to promote Cather’s legacy through arts programming and to encourage new adaptations of Cather’s work.

Ralph James was first introduced to Cather by his mother, Ardis, who gifted him a full set of Cather’s novels for Christmas when he was sixteen. He has read all of the author’s books, but points to My Ántonia as a favorite.

The National Willa Cather Center’s ability to encourage visitors to engage with history is also appreciated by James. “I am a firm believer that if you don’t understand your history, you will be doomed to repeat your same mistakes.” He continued, “It is really valuable to have the ability to go back over 100 years and imagine what life was like by seeing and walking among things from the past.” One such site where history will soon come alive is the Pavelka Farmstead, a setting from the final scenes of My Ántonia, which is undergoing a full restoration to its early 1900s condition as part of the campaign.

In addition to their generous gift to grow the Willa Cather Foundation’s endowment, the Robert and Ardis James Foundation also makes annual gifts to support operation of the National Willa Cather Center — a museum and archive that opened in 2017 as a living memorial to Cather.

Campaign Co-Chair Jay Yost, called the grant from the James Foundation “an incredibly meaningful gift at an important time.” He continued, “We are immensely grateful to Ralph James and Cathy James Paglia for their long-time support and for this important investment.”

Ardis (Butler) James grew up in Lincoln and Omaha and married Robert G. James of Ord in 1949. In leading the foundation that bears their parents' names, the James children seek to support causes that will honor their parents’ passions and their inherent love of Nebraska.

Ashley Olson, Executive Director of the National Willa Cather Center, noted “I hope the tremendous generosity of the James family will inspire additional gifts to the endowment and enable us to share the value of literature, history, and the arts with an expanded audience.”

—Photo courtesy of The International Quilt Museum, Image by Geoff Johnson / Malone & Company

The Willa Cather Foundation’s Campaign for the Future has met its initial $6.5 million goal and is now just $500,000 away from being able to fully restore and reinterpret the Willa Cather historic sites. The properties make up the nation’s largest collection of nationally designated historic sites dedicated to an American author. To date, over 570 donors from across the country have supported the campaign. To learn more or donate, please click here.