Posted by: COSI | September 22, 2010

We Lost A Great One

Last week one of the great supporters of COSI was buried—someone who had hid a lot of his extensive engagement with us.

Fred Pfening, Jr. was one of those rare individuals that as a CEO I’ve been fortunate to have at least one of on each board I’ve served in my career. Fred served on our board for 28 years. He was one of the first board members I got to know through his role on the search committee that gave me the opportunity here at COSI.

Fred was that down-to-earth, historical perspective anchor for our Board conversations and deliberations in a way that he seemed to be able to do uniquely. Plus, Fred had taken a “fatherly” interest in my efforts and I could always count on him for the unvarnished truth as he saw it. He’d also be the one to pull me aside after a board meeting, look me in the eye and ask “how are you doing?” Fred has been there for COSI through thick and thin, supporting us financially in a very quiet, reliable and substantive manner and also personally with sincere interest, engagement and concern.

While other board member’s affiliations with significant corporations were always commonly known, Fred’s background was little trumpeted. I was so glad we held a celebration party for Fred when he decided COSI was humming along well enough that he could step down. That’s when for the first time I saw the pictures of him with several US Presidents, traveling in China and the middle east, and learning of the patents he had in his bakery equipment business.

So those pictures and stories, and many shots of his circus involvement, were familiar to me at the family viewing for Fred last week. But they were fun to watch, and reminded me that as much as Fred was loyal and generous his love, after his family, paused first on circuses and circus history. It never stunted his passion for COSI, but for a man that once owned a circus, it was a special twinkle in his eye when he shared those stories.

So it was no surprise, and so appropriate, to find a calliope from the circus museum he supported in Wisconsin, being played and generating smiles outside the funeral home as I left. To have COSI named along with the circus museum as ways to honor Fred’s life was truly one last great gesture by the family on Fred’s behalf.

We are going to miss our historian and supporter. I’m going to miss a special fellow who gave me extra attention as I spend my stint stewarding his beloved science center. But I’m thrilled to have had the chance to get to know and work with someone of his caliber. Fred—you’ve left a great legacy and a wonderful family to carry on your work.

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