Dressed to the nines, Bee shovels fertilizer for a symphony fundraiser.
Beatrice “Bee” Vradenburg was born Beatrice White on November 1, 1922, in Manhattan, Kansas, and grew up in Washington, D.C. A childhood love of art and music led her to study art history at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she met her future husband, George Vradenburg Jr. They married in 1942 and four years later, after George’s service in World War II, they moved to Colorado Springs, which would remain their home until Bee’s death on Sept. 7, 2000, which was followed a few months later by George’s death. The couple had one child, George III, who now lives in Washington, D.C.
For five decades, Bee’s passion and persistence transformed the cultural climate of Colorado Springs. Friends and colleagues referred to “the Bee factor”: Bee’s unceasing ability to tackle new endeavors with gusto and achieve goals others thought impossible.
Under the nearly four decades of leadership Bee provided as general manager of the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra, the organization grew from a fledgling music group with an annual budget of $25,000 to a nationally recognized orchestra with a budget of $2 million that always operated in the black. She nurtured it from the living room of her own home until operations eventually moved in the 1970s to a separate office with a growing staff.
Her son, George, recalls growing up in a home brimming with culture. Pianist Van Cliburn and violinist Isaac Stern were family friends and frequent guests.
But Bee’s commitment to the Colorado Springs community extended beyond symphonic music. Her proudest achievement was shepherding the capital campaign and construction of the $14 million Pikes Peak Center for the performing arts, which opened in 1982 and remains the cultural cornerstone of the city.Bee retired from the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra in 1990, but her leadership and initiative in the arts community continued until her death.Bee was, quite simply, a visionary who took on all tasks large and small. She never doubted that a town the size of Colorado Springs could support – and deserved – the highest of artistic achievement. As she saw needs in the cultural community, she set out immediately to fill them. So much of what she launched or helped to launch continues to this day. Among her many long-running and lasting achievements:
- Founder, in 1955, of the Colorado Springs Symphony Guild, which continues today.
- Founding board member of Performing Arts for Youth Organization (PAYO), which brings performers into public schools and still operates today.
- Deeply involved in the process to create and launch the Colorado Council on the Arts (CCA), also serving as a member of CCA’s first board.
- In the 1970s, launched the Fabulous Fourth celebration in Colorado Springs’ Memorial Park, which now attracts nearly 100,000 people annually.
- Created the consortium that produced the acclaimed Broadmoor Christmas Pops on Ice for 17 years.
- Created the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony in 1980, which now serves about 500 children annually.
- Senior adviser involved in the creation of Colorado Springs Dance Theatre, the state’s only nonprofit presenter exclusively of national and international dance companies.
- Launched the $13.4 million campaign to construct the Pikes Peak Center, opened in 1982.
- Founding board member of Springspree, a citywide festival now in its third decade.
- Founding board member of the nationally acclaimed DaVinci Quartet, now based in Denver.
- Founding board member of Opera Theatre of the Rockies.
Among her many awards and recognitions:
- Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, 1972
- American Symphony Orchestra League’s Louis Sudler Award for Distinguished Service in Orchestra Management, 1981
- May Bonfils Stanton Award for Community Service, 1988
- City of Colorado Springs Medal
- Honorary Doctorate, The Colorado College
In a 1990 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, conductor Charles Ansbacher said of his friend: “Bee is a brilliant woman, dedicated, unselfish, and a woman who has warmth and generosity of spirit. She has exuded concern for musicians, has an absolutely untiring commitment to the betterment of the community, and a generosity of spirit.”