Jerry Anselmo ‘63, affectionately referred to by friends as the Godfather of Fundraising, has a magnetic, magnanimous presence, one overshadowed perhaps only by his compelling mission and purpose.
In 2008, after enduring the sudden death of his son, Brian, Jerry hosted a golf tournament and dinner auction at Rockhurst High School, Brian’s alma mater, to fund a scholarship in his memory. A year later, Jerry and his wife, Mary Ellen, and their daughters built on their success at Rockhurst to further memorialize Brian by benefiting additional organizations.
“I knew nothing about fundraising, but I knew how to run a business,” says Anselmo, who thrived in the insurance industry for more than 30 years after a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force. “I wanted to make things fun for everybody, so I came up with the idea to do a Dancing with the Stars event.”
From 2009 to 2019, Anselmo’s annual events for the BMA Foundation (acronym for Brian M. Anselmo) grew from 400 to more than 1,100 attendees. These events, which included stars from the Dancing with the Stars TV show, donated a total of $2 million to several Kansas City charities that provide educational opportunities and promote animal welfare – causes that were important to Brian.
“The reach of the BMA Foundation is all around Kansas City,” says Rockhurst High School President David Laughlin, who previously served as SLUH President. “It has helped centers for disadvantaged youth like Operation Breakthrough while championing education for young people at places like Rockhurst.
“Jerry is bright, faith-filled and persistent. He's a connector who works very hard to achieve and exceed his vision for BMA. In some ways, you just don't tell Jerry 'no’ because he'll reframe the question to let you say 'yes.’ He is upbeat and positive, and his sincerity to help others is palpable.”
In 2020, the pandemic forced Anselmo to reinvent his successful in-person event. His solution: The BMA Tonight Show. This virtual fundraiser allowed Anselmo to impersonate Johnny Carson with his own personal flair in a highly moving and entertaining production.
“Our event was a challenge as we almost had to cancel a week before,” says Anselmo. “I had to do a one man show instead of having people on stage with me.
“The comments we received from our supporters were overwhelming. Many said it was the best virtual fundraiser in Kansas City in 2020 and very well put together. While it did not match what we raised the previous year, at least we were able to help our charities in a time of need.”
Brian would be proud.