Bill & Sue Svendsen: Good ears, great hearts

Bill Svendsen loves music and musicians and making a difference.  That’s why he chairs the Jeremy Wilson Foundation.  But it took Bill awhile before music and support for the arts became his primary focus.

While their children were growing up, Bill and his wife Sue spent much of their time in the horse world. They owned show horses, their daughters rode and competed, and horses occupied a lot of the household’s non-work hours every week.

Even after the children had left home, Bill and Sue continue to show their horses. But that changed one day, after 25 years of the horse routine. “We were loading up the trailers with everything we needed when we realized we just didn’t feel like doing it anymore.”

With their free time, the Svendsens renewed an involvement with music that had been on hold since they started a family. They began going to concerts and visiting small music venues. Bill picked up the guitar again. Eventually they started a variety of ways to support both local and touring musicians.

Within a short time, Bill said, “We took the whole horse show scenario and moved it to music.”

After one of their sons moved to Long Beach, Washington, the Svendsens began visiting frequently. After realizing the lack of musical venues on the Long Beach peninsula, they started their own concert series – and eventually bought the building that now houses the Peninsula Arts Center. This led to creation of a foundation that operates the center and is expanding ways to nurture writers and visual artists, as well as musicians.

Bill is a rare individual, gifted with both vision and practicality. He understands good management principles (he’s got an MBA) as well as numbers and analytics (PhD in statistics).  “Business per se doesn’t interest me, but I know that if you want to do interesting things, you need structure to make sure the wheels don’t fall off.”

Which led to his involvement with JWF.

For some time, he had been pondering the needs of musicians facing medical bills. When he learned about JWF, he and Jeremy Wilson began consulting.

And it wasn’t too long before Bill found himself chairing the JWF board.

He sees himself as a sounding board and the chief reality checker. It’s tempting to expand services and strategies, but his goal is preventing mission creep. As chair, he counsels the foundation to stick with what it does best.

Bill is a humanitarian who also understands the value the arts bring to any community and any society. His varied contributions in this area recognize the remarkable abilities – as well as the quirks – of artists worldwide.

Of his shift from one avocation to another, he says: “There are a lot of similarities between show horses and musicians, but musicians usually clean their own stalls.”

By Claire Levine