For more than four decades, Donna Saurage has volunteered her time, talents and money to civic organizations in Baton Rouge, and on Nov. 10, Louisiana’s capital city will get a chance to say, “Thank you.”
A banquet will be held in her honor as the 2015 recipient of the Golden Deeds award, voted upon by members of civic associations all over the parish.
“When I was called this morning, all I could do is cry. There’s so many others so much more deserving,” said Saurage, whose late husband, Henry Norman Saurage III, ran the family business of Community Coffee for many years.
Friend Marvin Borgmeyer, who nominated her for the award, said she remains a humble and down-to-earth person despite her accomplishments working with a diverse group of civic and community organizations.
“She was doing things for the right reasons, and I just had a lot of respect for her over the years,” Borgmeyer said.
He said Saurage, 76, has been on the founding boards of at least seven community nonprofits and “took a lot of initiative and put some of her skin in the game to get these organizations going.”
The Golden Deeds award is voted on by the Inter-Civic Council of Baton Rouge, which is made up of members of various civic organizations in the city, including American Red Cross, Cortana Kiwanis Club, East Baton Rouge Lions Club and others.
The council votes on nominees for the award, and The Advocate supports the award by running advertisements, and printing tickets and programs.
The list of groups Saurage has worked with over the years reaches almost 50, including 14 years on the Public Affairs Research Council; 12 years with the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation; nine years on the board of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; and 15 years on the board of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
She has also been involved in youth and education issues, with more than 27 years’ involvement in Volunteers in Public Schools; 15 years with the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition; and six years each with Teach for America, on an advisory board for Youth Oasis and on the board of Young Leaders’ Academy.
The list includes more than 22 years’ service working with the United Way; 17 years with the National Council for Community and Justice; and more than 12 years with the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum.
“I have to have a passion for the mission of the organization,” Saurage said of how she selects which groups to help.
Saurage also served on boards that helped establish several organizations still serving the community. These include Youth Oasis, which helps to provide emergency shelter and support services to homeless people ages 10 to 25 in Baton Rouge, and Family Road of Greater Baton Rouge, which provides support services for families in need.
“There are so many needs for children without resources and families without resources,” Saurage said.
“I can think of so many startups where there was such a crying need.”
Saurage said she took lessons she learned from the most effective boards she worked on, such as the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Woman’s Hospital, and applied those lessons in working with some of the smaller organizations.
A board member’s role, she said, is to either give money, raise money or get off the board because when a board says fundraising is someone else’s job, that’s when the organization starts to falter.
The great thing over the years, she said, was all the people she’s met and worked with while serving on boards. She said they are people who enriched her life and who she otherwise likely wouldn’t have met.
“We have such wonderful, caring citizens here,” Saurage said.
She served on the Woman’s Hospital board for 10 years and was involved in various hospital committees for 27 years and earned praise there for her efforts.
Teri Fontenot, president and chief executive officer of Woman’s Hospital, described Saurage as a leader who is “savvy about not only about governance but strategy and business.”
Fonentot added, “She’s involved in so many things, and things she is involved in get done and get done well.”
Born in Oklahoma, Saurage moved to Baton Rouge in 1954 as a 15-year-old after her father got a job as manager of the radio station WJBO, shortly followed by her mother hosting a children television show on WBRZ she created, called “For Kids Only.”
Her involvement with nonprofit work started when she was about 30 and a member of the Junior League, which teaches young people how to get involved and make a difference in the community. It was good training, she said, and she started volunteering for boards and through nonprofits.
“I had a very supportive husband,” Saurage said. “He was able to earn enough to support the whole family so I didn’t have to work for pay.”
Saurage met her husband when they were still in high school. They were married for 57 years until his death in 2014 at age 77.
Although Saurage pulled back from her volunteer work while her husband was battling ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, she asked to get involved again after his passing. She said the work has helped her through the tough times.
“I got to thinking, ‘What would I do without the boards I served on and all the organizations?’ ” Saurage said. “I’m very grateful for what the community has given to me. It’s been very good for me.”
Saurage has five children, 14 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
A banquet to honor Saurage and her accomplishments will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at L’Auberge Casino and Hotel in Baton Rouge.
Tickets are $50 each and available by contacting Richard Flicker at flicker@ premier.net or (225) 931-1626.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.