Opera Theatre of Saint Louis receives monumental $45 million gift from supporter in her will

The gift is one of largest in the Opera Theatre’s history and one of the largest ever recorded for an American opera company.

Sam Masterson
February 06, 2020 - 12:56 pm

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - A woman who called a local opera company her "family" has left them with an almost unheard of gift in her will. 

Phyllis Brissenden of Springfield, Ill., who died on Dec. 17, gave an endowment gift, estimated at $45 million to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL). 

The company said in a press release that will more than double the OTSL's general endowment from $35 million to approximately $80 million. It is the largest in Opera Theatre’s history and one of the largest ever recorded for an American opera company, according to the release.

Phyllis Brissenden was a life board member of OTSL and was known as a very generous philanthropist, who worked at United Way in St. Louis for several years during World War II. She is also the daughter Obed Lewis Herndon and Marian Matheny Herndon, who owned dry goods stores in Springfield.

She supported OTSL from its very first season in 1976. 

"Phyllis championed Opera Theatre from its very beginnings, and remained a loyal, devoted fan and supporter throughout her life," said OTSL Board Chairman Noémi Neidorff. "Smart, knowledgeable, witty, and extraordinarily humble, Phyllis truly considered Opera Theatre her family. Every season, she made frequent trips from her home in Springfield, Illinois so as not to miss any performances, board meetings, master classes, rehearsals, or workshops. My fellow board members and I count ourselves fortunate to have known Phyllis. We will forever cherish her memory."

OTSL estimates that she contributed a total of $2.5 million dollars to the company during her lifetime. 

The Theatre plans to dedicate its 2020 production of "Susannah" in memory of Brissenden.

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