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On Saturday, April 23, the Racine Symphony Orchestra will mark the end of its 84th season with a Masterworks concert celebrating “Rising Stars” at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave. Also on the RSO’s agenda that evening is another celebration — one expressing appreciation for all of the time, talent, expertise and energy that the orchestra’s executive director, Bonnie Prochaska, has given the organization throughout the last nine years.

Prochaska will retire from her position with the RSO at the end of May. And all who attend the April concert are invited to join in a special reception, held in her honor, immediately following the 7:30 p.m. performance. Cake, wine, beer and soft drinks will be served.

While Prochaska — whose many years of service to our community have also included leading organizations such as Sustainable Racine and the Racine United Arts Fund, and serving on numerous non-profit boards and committees — is looking forward to the free time that retirement will bring, those who have worked with her at the RSO are reflecting on the all the good that she’s done and how much she’ll be missed.

Nancy DeKraay, previous RSO board president, said she feels “so fortunate to have worked with Bonnie.”

Prochaska’s degree of professionalism and organizational skills are among her many assets, according to DeKraay.

“She brought us into the 21st century of nonprofit board policy planning,” she said.

Prochaska is also very good at coordinating all of the details that must come together before each performance, she said.

“It is impossible for the public to know the amount of planning and organization that is required to put on a successful concert,” DeKraay said. “Bonnie was the ‘glue’ that held every concert together.”

Forward motion

Current board president, Roberta Stark, said that Prochaska’s thorough understanding of nonprofit best practices, and the direction she provided, helped ensure the continued success of the orchestra in our community.

“Her shoes will definitely be difficult to fill,” Stark said. “We hope she will enjoy her retirement and be able to come to concerts and just relax and enjoy the music.”

One of Prochaska’s first — and biggest — challenges on the job was guiding the RSO through the economic turmoil of 2008, said Sue Ramagli, RSO patron services manager, who has worked with Prochaska throughout her term.

“She restructured, revised, reduced and reworked our budget and plans, and somehow managed to keep the symphony afloat during difficult times,” Ramagli said.

Prochaska’s many other accomplishments included establishing working board committees and organizing strategic planning sessions with the board; expanding the RSO’s online presence; and extending the symphony’s educational outreach with school students. All of that, and more, was done in a part-time job frame, and all of it with grace, Ramagli said.

“Bonnie has also been a great mentor,” she said. “She has a great sense of humor, too!”

Worth the effort

Prochaska said she is especially proud of the growth of the symphony’s Board of Directors and the stabilization of the orchestra’s financial situation. Soon after she came on board as interim director in 2007, difficult financial decisions — including cancelling concerts — had to be made in order to sustain the organization. But the long-term results, bringing the orchestra’s finances back into the “black” within a few years, were worth it.

She is also glad to see the orchestra expanding its repertoire and said she feels she is leaving the RSO in a very solid, responsible place.

The orchestra may look different than it did in its 1990s heyday, she said, but it is still performing and carrying out its mission of enriching, educating and entertaining our community.

“I am proud that the symphony will be celebrating its 85th year next season,” Prochaska said. “And it has been done on a small budget, with great support from our musicians, patrons and small businesses here in our community.”

Change is good

Her time with the RSO has been “an exciting journey,” Prochaska said. “And now it’s time to change things up, for me and for them.”

She’s looking forward to celebrating her retirement with a motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, Tom, and their son, Matthew. And, when she’s back home in Racine, she said she likes the idea of being able to sit on her patio, with a cup of coffee, and just watch what is going on around her, with no particular plans for the day.

In the meantime, Prochaska is working hard to line things up for her replacement (yet to be named), while also steering the orchestra through the end of this season and looking ahead to next year’s 85th. There’s still time to thank her for all she has done to keep the Racine Symphony — our city’s longest running arts organization — going strong, and a most enjoyable way to do so would be to attend the season finale concert and reception. Tickets cost $23 in advance and $25 at the door (students 20 and younger get free tickets). For more about the concert, which will feature guest artists from the RSO’s Young Artists’ Competition, go to www.racinesymphony.org or call 262-636-9285.

Lee Roberts is the arts and entertainment reporter for The Journal Times. Scene & Heard appears periodically in Out & About. Lee can be reached at 262-631-1755, by email at lroberts@journaltimes.com and by mail at 212 Fourth St., Racine, WI 53403.

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Features Reporter

Lee Roberts is the features writer for The Journal Times, covering a wide range of subjects, from the local arts scene to profiles of interesting people and places in our community. She is also a part-time page editor.

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