Member Spotlight: Barbara Tocker

Barbara Tocker says she developed "burnt orange blood" through osmosis. She never officially attended The University of Texas at Austin, although several members of her family are graduates. She states without hesitation that her closest UT ties are with the College of Fine Arts, since she and her husband first started volunteering for Texas Performing Arts (formerly the Performing Arts Center) in the early 1980s.

Bob and Barbara Tocker with Dean Doug DempsterBob and Barbara Tocker with Dean Doug Dempster

Barbara grew up in Houston, but moved to Austin in 1959 with her husband Robert, where they began decades of dedicated service as community volunteers and philanthropists. Robert was a dentist, who started his practice after receiving a B.A. in Zoology in 1951 from The University of Texas at Austin and his dentistry degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. As a mother of four sons, Barbara's primary interest in the 1960s was raising her children, but she always made time to volunteer at their temple, was president of the Austin Dental Auxiliary, served on the state board of Dental Health Education, and worked for various charities around Austin.

"Raising four boys was exhausting at time, but also lots of fun," Barbara said. "But I always enjoyed helping with community causes, especially at our temple."

At Congregation Beth Israel (CBI), Barbara worked tirelessly as a volunteer, and served as Co-chair for the Congregation Child Development Center Capital Campaign & Construction, as well as serving as President of the Congregation Beth Israel Sisterhood.

Barbara became a savvy fundraiser through her experiences at CBI, although it wasn't easy in the beginning.

"I hated asking people for money at first," she admitted. "But since it was for the child development center at our temple, I got the idea to solicit grandparents for donations. It worked! After that, it became easier."

And she was highly successful. She became a fearless advocate and fundraiser, helping to raise the first $3 million towards a new education building for CBI. Her volunteer work continued both in the community and at UT.

Barbara and Robert always placed great value on education and the free access to information. In that pursuit, their family foundation, The Tocker Foundation, has focused on public libraries for the past 25 years. Much of their effort has been directed towards removing barriers and opening access to education. They have a long history of supporting UT-Austin, the College of Fine Arts and Texas Performing Arts both personally and through the Tocker Foundation. Barbara is a "hands-on" philanthropist, one who gives with a strong sense of purpose while generously sharing her time and expertise.

Barbara and Robert received the 2014 Doty Award from Dean Doug Dempster on January 30th, in recognition of their more than 30 years of support, friendship, and advocacy for the College of Fine Arts. Barbara said she was "thrilled and honored" by the award.

Robert served as a volunteer usher for more than 20 years at Bass Concert Hall, and Barbara and he donated the Robert Tocker Grand Staircase that connects the main lobby to the upper floors.

"We were very happy to contribute to the Bass Concert Hall renovations, as Texas Performing Arts (formerly the Performing Arts Center) has done so much to bring culture and live performances to Austin," Barbara said. "We've been a part of the center since the day it opened. People in Austin should be proud of what Texas Performing Arts has accomplished."

Barbara joined the College of Fine Arts Advisory Council in 2006, and she has been a proactive advocate for the college.

"Karen Payne approached my husband and asked if he would consider joining the Fine Arts Council. He said, 'No, I can't, but my wife will.' So that's how I got involved," Barbara said, laughing. "I had no idea back then how much I would enjoy my association with the college and the friendships that have developed during these recent years on the board."

Barbara said her greatest enjoyment as a council member comes from getting to know the professors and the innovative teams that teach. She feels that she is "obtaining another education" through the council.

"Just understanding how things work in academia has been fulfilling: sitting on selection committees, gaining knowledge into the arts and how they are changing with technology, understanding university politics, and, of course establishing close friendships. It's all been very rewarding," Barbara said.