PASCO — Jo Brodzinski could be described as tireless.
Her friends and fans easily go beyond that, recounting stories of this ageless arts advocate, director, performer, producer, stage manager, drama coach, mother, grandmother, winemaker and mentor to hundreds of youthful Tri-City actors hankering for a chance to be on stage.
Try adding vibrant, multitalented, fiercely protective, inspiring, and a warm fuzzy to that description and it might be even more precise, said Ginny Quinley, a fellow director and Brodzinski's longtime friend.
The Academy of Children's Theatre will pay tribute to Brodzinski's dedication to the arts by honoring her at its annual Heart for the Arts dinner and auction Friday. The event is open to everyone and will be held in the Lampson International hangar, 5222 Stearman Ave., near the Pasco Airport.
"Jo has always been generous with her time, her creativity, her talent and her money," Quinley said. "She is passionate about so many different arts organizations and does more than any one person I know to help keep them all afloat."
Brodzinski, a 73-year-old grandmother of two, said her love of the arts sinks deep into her soul and continues to help fill the hole left when her husband Ron died unexpectedly in 2006.
Despite her background as a talented performer in music, dance and theater, she becomes uncomfortable with the spotlight aimed at her. She's deeply touched by ACT's honor, she said, but she'd rather be behind the scenes helping honor someone else.
"When Ron and I first moved here there wasn't much to do, and this arts community needed help," Brodzinski said. "I wanted to help raise the bar of professionalism in the arts, and with the help of so many others who think like I do, we have."
She continues to lobby for a performing arts center in the Tri-Cities, which would give the arts community a real home, she said.
"We need a home, a place that nurtures all parts of the soul and gives the community high quality entertainment," she said.
Brodzinski continues to direct and produce local productions when she isn't crusading for the arts. She's in rehearsals with the ACT production of West Side Story, which opens March 22.
Paris Rodgers, the 1983 Miss Tri-Cities, said she'll never forget the first time she auditioned for a Richland Light Opera production Brodzinski was directing a few decades ago.
"I found her to be an exceptional director, generous with her experience and guidance, and incredibly creative and resourceful," said Rodgers, the ACT director. "I admire the way Jo does whatever is necessary to nurture and promote even the (smaller arts) programs."
Brodzinski has a degree in piano performance and philosophy, and taught the latter at Columbia Basin College for 13 years. She and Ron moved to the Tri-Cities from Indiana in 1969, when Ron went to work for Battelle as a nuclear physicist.
During those early days, while raising four children, Brodzinski also found time to take part in Richland Players and Richland Light Opera productions. She even found time to coach her kids' swim team.
"That woman is the most dedicated and single-minded supporter of the performing arts I have ever worked with," said singer Mary Lou Gnoza of Richland. "We go back many years together and usually bill ourselves (when collaborating on a production) as 'The Brains' and 'The Mouth.' She's the brains, and I'm the mouth.
"Jo is absolutely brilliant at deciding what is to be done, and I can usually talk anyone into doing what is needed for the various projects."
Brodzinski served on the boards for the Richland Light Opera (now Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre), ACT and Richland Players, and the Performing Arts Center committee and task force. She also lends a hand to many of CBC productions and help form ACT in 1995.
"Jo recognized the strong interest in performing arts opportunities for children and was a major contributor to the shared vision and passion that helped launch ACT," said ACT board president Nancy Krupin. "She wrote the grant that enabled ACT to produce its first show, and she remained involved through the years as a director for several ACT shows."
Krupin's daughters, Janet and Katie, grew up under Brodzinski's acting tutelage. Janet Krupin is touring with the national tour Bring It On: The Musical, which might make a stop on Broadway later this year.
"I remember how Jo would really challenge us to be storytellers," Janet Krupin, 24, said in an email.
Back then, Krupin said she didn't think much beyond memorizing the words and singing pretty in a production.
"Jo once stopped a 14-year-old me on stage, mid-song during a rehearsal of Into the Woods and asked me what my character (Cinderella) wanted," Krupin said. "I said, 'Doesn't she want to go to the ball?' Jo replied, 'The ball is just the beginning. Sing this song and think about what Cinderella wants beyond the ball.' That stuck with me."
Steve Haberman, the Kennewick piano man, is well acquainted with Brodzinski's "extraordinarily persuasive personality" after working with her many times in the past 15 years.
"Jo has a way of getting you to do a show without asking," Haberman said. "All she does is mention an upcoming production she is thinking about doing and without even asking if you're available, you know you have been hooked into doing it.
"Nobody ever says no to Jo," he added. "She drives the bus, and we all hop on willingly. She is the best, and it is always an honor to work with her."
For a theater dame who's quick to laugh, hug or cry, and tireless when lending a hand where needed, she's also tough when she has to be and soft when she needs to be, Quinley said.
And yet as complex as she is, Brodzinski has a much simpler way of looking at life.
"I've had a great life, and I owe that life to give back something," she said. "My goal is to take the talents God gave me and try to make the world a better place."
Tickets to the event are $75 and include dinner, live and silent auctions and wine tasting, as well as the tribute ceremony to Brodzinski.
For tickets, call Paris Rodgers at Academy of Children's Theatre at 943-6027.