Former volunteer gives DIA $1.71 million

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

It’s the sort of thing museum development directors fantasize about.

The Detroit Institute of Arts announced Tuesday that a former volunteer at the museum gift store left the DIA $1.71 million in her will.

Elizabeth Verdow, who died in 2014 at age 86, was a former Detroit Public Schools art teacher who volunteered at the museum from 1990-2009. The Farmington Hills resident was a graduate of Albion College and apparently a devotee of contemporary art.

“We are humbled by Elizabeth’s longtime dedication to and support of the DIA,” said museum Director Salvador Salort-Pons in a prepared statement. “We are deeply grateful and moved.”

Museum officials said Verdow was unmarried, had no children, and no close relatives.

Verdow’s will stipulated that three-quarters of the money, or $1.26 million, be used to buy new contemporary painting and sculpture. The remaining $450,000 will go into the museum’s operating endowment.

Retired museum store manager and buyer Anna Helkowsky remembered Verdow as a quiet, unassuming woman who was a pleasure to work with.

“She was part of what I called my ‘Sunday sunshine’ crew,” Helkowsky said. “Elizabeth came in, and whatever I needed, she would do.”

She was aware Verdow loved the museum, Helkowsky added, “but I did not know the extent of her passion. And who knew she had this much money?”

Verdow’s name will go up on the Robert S. Tannahill Society donor wall, and any art acquired with her funds will have the source noted on the gallery label.