When the Palm Beach State College Foundation was launching a new STEM program, it was only natural that they wanted Boca Raton business and philanthropic leader Yvonne Boice—known for glitzy and highly effective fundraising events—to take a leading role.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math—courses of study colleges are stressing to prepare students for high-paying jobs. Boice originally turned them down, however. It had to do with a missing A.
“When I said no, they said ‘Why not?’ I said ‘You have to add an A—for the arts—and make it STEAM,” said Boice, whose belief in the civilizing power of the arts is legendary. A board member for the National Trust of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Boice says, “Education and the arts are my great loves.”
So Palm Beach State College’s STEM Initiative became the STEAM Initiative, and Boice, as is her habit, threw herself into raising money for the program, which awards scholarships in the designated fields of study. Pulling out the stops, Boice arranged for Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to be guest of honor at a first fundraising lunch that was held at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and which raised $500,000.
Ms. Boice chaired the STEAM Initiative’s second fundraising lunch, which showcased the actor John Lithgow as keynote speaker, earlier this year. “Lithgow is passionate about the role creativity and the arts can play in expanding the traditional approach to education, literacy and life,” Boice told a Palm Beach newspaper. She could have been talking about herself.
In addition to her work on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the STEAM Initiative, Boice serves on the board of the Palm Beach International Film Festival (she was a recipient of the festival’s Founders Award), Boca Raton Historical Society, the Boca Philharmonic Symphony, and his chairman of the Board of Overseers of Lynn University—just to name a few. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Independent Women’s Forum.
When Boice received the prestigious Diamond Award from the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce last year, she was hailed as “a huge proponent and shining example of women in leadership positions.” In the hospital with a minor ailment, Boice couldn’t attend but her husband, Al Zucaro, a lawyer and founder of the World Trade Center in Palm Beach, a nonprofit, represented her, and she sent a recorded greeting in which she said, "Diamonds are only lumps of coal that stuck it out."
Yvonne Boice was launched unexpectedly into the role of big time entrepreneur in 1986. At the time, Ms. Boice owned the Fugazy Travel agency (which she only recently sold), while her husband, the late Grant Boice, one of the key figures in the development of the Century 21 real estate franchises, was developing a 70, 000 square foot plus, family-friendly shopping mall in Boca. When Grant Boice died unexpectedly, the project fell to his wife.
“I hadn’t worked in a real, high-paying job. The travel agency was my avocation,” Boice recalls. “When it came time to refinance a $5 million shopping center, who was going to loan a housewife this kind of money? I had to prove to the bank and loan company that I knew what I was doing and how to run a business.”
She quickly signed Outback Steakhouse as an early tenant and other the tenants in the shopping center included a dry cleaner, spa, day care center and dance studio. “The most important thing is that I ran the shopping center like a family,” she says. “I was here every day and so if my tenants had a complaint or needed something, there was always somebody to reach out to. I had 100 percent occupancy for twenty years.” Ms. Boice sold the Shoppes earlier this year to an investment firm.
She described how the Shoppes became her own in an interview two years ago. “In the beginning,” Boice recalled, “the Shoppes was a fulfillment of my late husband's dream, and I was proud to have achieved that for him. But as time passed, the Shoppes became mine. I worked very hard to make it a success and to create a plaza that was really an important part of the neighborhood. The Shoppes gave me an identity by providing me with the opportunity to grow as a businesswoman and community leader.”
Ms. Boice is a graduate of New York University with a BS degree in marketing. A native of New Jersey, she came from a family that required each child to do something musical. One sister picked the violin, and the other played the piano, while their brother opted for the drums. Young Yvonne took dance lessons at Carnegie Hall. “We were all taught to perform on something, and I just loved it,” she recalls. It was during this period that the future entrepreneur harbored a desire to be a Rockette—perhaps her only unachieved ambition of her life (but there is still time!).
She married Grant Boice in 1964 and the couple adopted their daughter, Lauren, in 1968. Yvonne received a phone call from the adoption agency saying that they had a baby girl for her, and she immediately flew to San Francisco to pick up Lauren. She flew home with the baby, who proceeded to cry heartily throughout the first night. The Boices had decided not to reveal that they were in the process of adoption until it was a done deal. So Boice’s mother didn’t quite understand when she got a call from her exhausted daughter the next morning. “I said ‘Mother, I have the baby already and you’d better get here soon,’” Boice laughingly remembers.
Today Lauren is a lawyer in Boston who is married to world-famous astrophysicist Dr. Randall Knowles Smith. It came as no surprise to people who knew Boice’s love of travel and entertaining that she staged Lauren’s 1998 wedding in historic Amberly Castle, a 12th century manor house in England. Yvonne Boice and Al Zucaro were married in 2010.
Boice is no stranger to the world of politics. “I realized that if I was to make a difference, I would have to get involved in politics,” says Boice, who has raised money for many Republican candidates including former Virginia governor George Allen, Eric Cantor, who just left his post as House Majority Leader, and former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum. “I have a set program for a fundraiser. I do it, and I do it well,” Boice says.
Boice was tapped to represent the U.S. at two international women’s conferences. At the suggestion of then-Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes, Boice was a delegate in 2006 to the MENA (Middle East and North African) Women's Conference held in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. The next year she attended at the Global Summit of Women in Berlin.
World-traveler Boice, however, had one of her most interesting experiences abroad when she spoke at the Marrakech Film Festival. She was on the program after a filmmaker who told the audience that women in Morocco always had been and always were portrayed as victims in films. Boice threw out her prepared remarks. As she later recalled to a TV interviewer, she said, “This is not the truth about women and you do not have to believe what he has to say, nor do you have to accept it because we do not have to be victims.”
As for her second love—education—Boice is concerned about the way the history of the U.S. is presented in schools today. “One of the things we have to do is take a very strong look at the education system and what our children are being taught today about our history and how we were founded,” she says.
When friends try to enlist the famously effective Boice her for causes outside the arts and education—even medical charities—she laughingly says, “I don’t do diseases,” and explains that, “If you spread yourself too thin, you can’t accomplish as much.”
Most people would shake their heads and say that Yvonne Boice nevertheless has undertaken a dizzying array of philanthropic challenges and has succeeded magnificently in everything she has taken on.