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Kathy Stepp and Howard Rothwell Turn Passion into Action

Sometimes a little inspiration is all it takes to drive change.

Inspiring others into action is what has always motivated Kansas City Ballet (KCB) supporters Kathy Stepp and Howard Rothwell, who turned their mutual love of ballet into a long-term mission to raise awareness and encourage others to support the organization.

Now, more than ten years later, Kathy and Howard reflect on the many ways in which they have worked tirelessly to promote the Ballet and preserve it for future generations.

Finding Something to Really Care About

Howard says he and Kathy, spouses and co-founders of Kansas City-based advisory firm Stepp & Rothwell, were never interested in just writing checks to support a cause.

“We like to find things that we truly care about to support, and then try to spread that enthusiasm to others,” he says. “Having a passion for something, versus simply writing a check, is how we find that we can make a real difference.”

Kathy and Howard discovered KCB after being invited by friends to attend a mixed repertory performance.

“It was good beyond our expectations, especially with the live music as an added component,” recalls Kathy, who says they bought season tickets that very same night.

Not long afterward, Kathy was invited to take on a leadership role by joining the KCB Board of Directors. She served as a member of the Finance Committee and as president from 2017-2019 before her board term concluded in 2023. During her tenure, Kathy would help the Ballet to kick off the Moving into the Future Campaign (MITF), celebrate its 60th anniversary, and lead efforts to energize audience development efforts.

Over the years, the couple would take on additional opportunities to champion the work of the Ballet, including serving on KCB’s MITF Committee, making a generous donation toward the endowment, and engaging their company as the corporate sponsor of The Bolender Society’s reception suite during performances at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Interestingly, neither Kathy nor Howard had any experience in dance or ballet before getting involved with KCB.

“It doesn’t require experience or talent to enjoy something and get involved to help it succeed,” says Howard. “If you believe in something enough, it is easy to get others to believe. And the more others care about what you care about, the bigger the contribution they are going to make.”

A Focus on Supporting Young Dancers

Kathy says that while she loves watching any KCB performance, she gets the most enjoyment from watching students and other young dancers practice their art form during a class or rehearsal session.

The mother of three children, Kathy admits she has a “real soft spot” for kids and all that they can achieve as young dancers. “It’s always amazing to me to witness kids accomplishing something that they never thought they could do,” she says, adding that it is “extra gratifying as a donor or board member to know that you helped to make that possible.”

Last April, both Kathy and Howard say they were mesmerized by the student performers from KCB’s Reach Out and Dance (R.O.A.D.) Program at the BARRE KC Soirée event. “We were so impressed with them! It wasn’t just their performance, which was just so much fun to watch, but it was going backstage to see how much they loved doing it. It was a magical moment for us, and it really hit home how important the R.O.A.D. Program is, not just for dance, but for kids to have something so positive to do and to look forward to doing.”

Apart from promoting the success of young dancers, Kathy and Howard say it was the opportunity to meet so many great and dedicated people that made their involvement with KCB so satisfying. As Kathy proclaims, “The board members are wonderful; the staff is wonderful; the patrons are wonderful; and the dancers are simply amazing!”

Ensuring the Future Success of the Ballet

Looking ahead to the challenges the Ballet faces as it aims to continue having a positive impact on the community, Howard points to rising costs as the #1 issue.

“Costs keep rising, but you can’t raise ticket prices to keep pace or else you will lose your audience,” he says. “Many arts organizations face this same challenge, and so it is imperative that fundraising focusses its efforts toward strengthening the endowment and building for the future.”

Kathy echoes the sentiment by saying that ongoing support will be critical in the coming years, especially through engagement with younger audiences. “There will never be a time when we won’t need a lot of people to support the arts.”

Passing Along the Spirit of Philanthropy

Kathy and Howard beam with pride when talking about how their spirit of philanthropy has been embraced by their children.

“Giving back has definitely become a family affair,” says Howard, who shares that their daughter is presently following in her mother’s footsteps with a host of charitable activities in Kansas City while one of their sons is participating in a Teach for America “Artist Year” Program in Philadelphia.

“Our kids understand what it means to give back, and what you have to do to get results,” says Howard.

Now semiretired and based part-time in Park City, Utah, Kathy and Howard stay true to form finding ways to make a difference in their adopted community. Kathy has stepped up to become president of the executive board of the town’s historic Egyptian Theater while Howard has turned his attention to supporting the area’s National Ability Center for people with disabilities.

Wherever they are, the couple remains dedicated to being a part of the KCB family for the long term. In fact, Kathy remains a member of the KCB Emeritus Council.

“We have received so much more than we have given through our philanthropic efforts with KCB,” says Kathy. “It will always be important to us to maintain our friendships and to help make sure that the globally acclaimed KCB is a treasure to be protected forever.”

You Can Turn Your Passion for the Ballet into Action

We would gladly assist you with ways to make a gift that is meaningful to you and has a lasting impact for Kansas City Ballet. For more information, please contact Jennifer Wampler by phone at 816.216.5585 or by email at impact@kcballet.org.

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