Balancing Life and the MCA
Helen Zell's innovative contributions to the Women's Board led to further leadership roles.
I think in the beginning the Woman's Board—I mean it seemed like a nice thing to be part of because I was starting to really care about the museum. But what women's boards were really all about in those days was financial support. I didn't have a lot of money. I worked. Whereas most of the women on the board did not work. There were a few. Maybe two or three people who did. But most of the women were very—a wonderful group of very accomplished women who were at the stage in their life when they didn't have to work, or want to work, or paid work was not a part of what they did. So I was sort of conflicted about joining a group where a financial commitment was part of what you were expected to be doing, but I was assured that if I became a really active volunteer, I could make my service be useful in that way.
So I did join the board. A woman named Bea Steponate, who was already on the board, was very influential in seducing me to join. And they figured a really nice place for me to serve would be in the store, which was a kind of new enterprise. It'd been around for a little while. But I would actually help staff the store and work in the store, and that way I wouldn't have to feel guilty about not giving any money. And it worked out beautifully. I loved the store. I liked being part of a group of people who were sort of semi-professional. Some of the people were volunteers. But the woman who ran the store was a professional. So it was a nice way to bridge the gap between total volunteerism and still being part of my work ethic. And I worked full time, so I had to sort of squeeze this in between working and not. And it was a great entry for me. Had you asked me then if being the president of the board was something I aspired to, I would have laughed. I would have said I could never be president of this board. I can't contribute at the level that they do. I never really thought of the Women's Board leadership as being something that you could do without also being a big financial supporter. So I just never considered it. I headed committees. I was involved in planning. I loved working with the staff. But eventually someone asked me if I might consider doing something like this.