Bill and Peg Balzer: Challenging Others to Support the Rialto

Balzer Challenge helps spark record year for annual giving
Theatre patron’s matching gift marks his leadership of GSU Foundation

Like a play that ends with a flourish, Bill Balzer wrapped up his leadership of the Georgia State University Foundation by helping set a fundraising record.

In the fiscal year that just ended, GSU Annual Programs achieved a milestone by receiving more than $1.1 million. That included a challenge grant from Balzer and his wife, Peg, of $15,000 that raised an additional $21,605 for the Rialto Center for the Arts. This represented a 243 percent increase over the previous year’s gifts to the Rialto, and attracted 70 additional donors.

Balzer (B.A., 1998) received his GSU diploma after retiring from a long career at UPS. He joins the thousands of nontraditional students on campus, and like 40 percent of GSU students, he’s also the first in his family to get a college degree.

“As donors, Peg and I want to see where our money goes, and we give with oversight,” he said. “When we give to Georgia State with our challenge grants, we see where that money is going. … We know it takes some private money, and that a public university can’t always count on government funding. This is some ‘give back’ because life’s been good to us.”

GSU Annual Programs raises funding for scholarships, programs and facilities that ensure the university’s continued growth and achievement. Other highlights included:

  • Parents of GSU students gave nearly $14,000 more to the Parents Association, through the addition of 179 donors.
  •  Panther Telephone Outreach increased pledges by almost $12,000.
  •  The University-Wide Scholarship Fund benefited from an increase in funding and those choosing to give –  $13,382 more than the previous year, from 136 additional donors.

Changing lives of nontraditional students through education is a big part of why the Balzers give and believe others should also invest at Georgia State. When potential donors “can meet one or two of our students and hear their stories, that will move them off the dime,” he said.

“You don’t have to be Bill Gates to give. When you talk to people who experience giving, it’s not people who have billions of dollars,” he added. “You get back so much more, not necessarily in dollars. It just feels good.”

The Balzers became involved with the Rialto initially as patrons of the Theatrical Outfit, which performed regularly at the Rialto before the refurbishing of the old Herren’s restaurant into the Balzer Theater. They became synonymous with the downtown arts scene by making their home in the Healey Building, built in 1913, diagonally across from the Rialto.

When the GSU Foundation board met recently, the Rialto Jazz for Kids program and musical director Gordon Vernick performed in Balzer’s honor. Balzer greeted the crowd, unbuttoned his dress shirt and showed off a white T-shirt proclaiming “I LOVE RIALTO” in GSU blue letters. Every board member received a similar shirt.

“Being the foundation chair was almost like the culmination of everything for me at Georgia State,” said Balzer, who has played many roles on campus, including commencement speaker, trustee, member of the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors, and student spouse (when Peg Balzer studied at GSU).

This fall, Bill Balzer will add playwright to that list as “Two Drink Minimum,” a play based on his life, is performed around the corner from the Rialto at the Balzer Theater.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424