Jill Hepburn – 2024 Recipient

Greater Cedarburg Foundation Civic Award  in Memory of James W. Coutts

Jill Hepburn, who moved decisively to establish a fine arts museum in Cedarburg, will receive the Greater Cedarburg Foundation’s 21st annual Civic Award in Memory of James W. Coutts. The 2024 award will be presented at the foundation’s Civic Award celebration on May 8 at the Cedarburg Cultural Center.

One summer day in 2012, Jill Hepburn and a friend, the late Patricia Ross, were having lunch across the street from the magnificent Jochen-Wittenberg mansion on Cedarburg’s historic Washington Avenue, when they noticed that the real estate company that occupied the 1898 mansion was selling the building.

When the two luncheon partners crossed the street and peered into the windows of the mansion, Jill realized that she was looking at the future art museum that her husband Mal had for years envisioned to house and display the Wisconsin art he had accumulated as president of the former Ozaukee Bank. “Oh my goodness,” she remembers thinking. “This should be the art museum Mal’s always talking about.”‘

The mansion was acquired by the Ozaukee Bank Gift to the Future Fund, a trust set up by Mal Hepburn. The trust also paid for 49 paintings by notable Wisconsin artists which the bank had accumulated. These became the core collection of the museum, to which were added the winning paintings of Cedarburg’s annual plein aire event that attracts 165 artists to the streets of Cedarburg every summer.

The mansion was in remarkably good shape in spite of having been in later years a boarding house and a commercial real estate office. Once purchased, Jill Hepburn took over the job of converting the building into a public space. Cedarburg was ready for such a resource, and large numbers of volunteers showed up to clean, polish and paint the interior, and restore the gardens outside.

Jill regularly appeared at the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, and other organizations to describe her vision for the art museum, raise funds, and recruit volunteers. The Cedarburg Art Museum opened to the public during the 2013 Strawberry Festival. She ran the museum herself until she developed a job description, interviewed candidates, and hired a paid Executive Director. In 2014 Jill nominated the first Board of Directors for the museum; she then served as Board Chair for the next six years.

Since its launch, the museum has accumulated scores of new paintings and sculptures, sponsored children’s programs and public lectures, added a Victorian fountain and outdoor music stage to create a summertime beer garden, and published an illustrated history of Wisconsin art that is destined to become the last word on the subject for decades to come.

“Jill’s vision to create a gathering place to celebrate the arts of Wisconsin has resulted in one of Cedarburg’s true gems. Years ago she had a vision of creating a fine arts museum in our community. Now the Cedarburg Arts Museum is amongst Wisconsin’s finest assets. From its very beginning our community has been so very blessed to have Jill’s quiet leadership resulting in an enhanced appreciation of both the fine arts and nature,” said Jack Hale, GCF’s 16th Civic Awardee and prolific Cedarburg volunteer.

In addition to her tireless commitment to launching and developing the Cedarburg Art Museum, Jill has a many decades-long record of volunteering for other worthy causes. She is a former board member, fundraising chair, volunteer coordinator, and longtime volunteer at the Riveredge Nature Center; former board member of the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts; has packed lunches for those experiencing homelessness in Milwaukee; helped burn the prairie at Thorson School’s outdoor classroom; and more. The jewel in her crown is the Cedarburg Art Museum.

Jill would be the first person among us to say that she didn’t do this alone. “I get all the credit for the Art Museum, but I don’t deserve it,” she said.

“Jill’s passion for Cedarburg has positively impacted our community and her legacy will extend into the decades to come. Jill’s goal for the Cedarburg Art Museum was not only to highlight the arts, but also to support Cedarburg as a community that’s vibrant and an interesting place in which to live, said Pam Helf, Past President of the museum’s Board of Directors.

On May 8, the Greater Cedarburg Foundation will honor Jill Hepburn with the GCF Civic Award in memory of James W. Coutts. The public is invited to attend the celebration at the Cedarburg Cultural Center (W62N546 Washington Ave). Doors open at 6:30 pm and the program begins at 7 pm. Dessert and a cash bar will be available. To reserve tickets for the event, email CedarburgFoundation@gmail.com or call (262) 204-7387 by May 1.

Jill Hepburn has designated the Cedarburg Art Museum as the recipient of the cash gift given to the GCF Civic Award winner.
Previous recipients of the Civic Award include American Legion Peter Wollner Post 288, Gail Ostermann, Merlin Rostad, Carl Edquist, Ralph Huiras, Bob Armbruster, Edward Rappold, Janet and Don Levy, Mal Hepburn, Barbara and Layton Olsen, Jim and Sandy Pape, Jim Coutts, Paul and Philia Hayes, Jim Lee, Dick Dieffenbach, the men and women of the Cedarburg Fire Department, Patty Gallun Hansen, Jack and Susan Hale, Jerry and Alice Voigt, and Bill Wernecke Sr.

Since 2001, the Greater Cedarburg Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $2 million to community organizations and projects that preserve the local cultural heritage, enhance artistic endeavors, and support educational, social, and community-based services in the greater Cedarburg area.

Jerry and Alice Voigt

Jill Hepburn, pictured in her garden, is the Greater Cedarburg Foundation’s 21st Civic Awardee.