When you first meet the impossibly petite and impeccably attired Nancy King Zeckendorf, you’d never suspect that Santa Fe’s premier arts fundraiser started her working life as a wholesale vendor of fishing worms.

In first grade, she developed a fascination with opera, thanks to a music teacher who played records by stars of the era in the class. Zeckendorf wanted to earn some money to buy her own 78s, but how? She eschewed the lemonade stand in favor of collecting night crawlers to sell for a penny each to her local bait shop, and, at about 50 wigglers each night, her record collection grew accordingly.

Philanthropy's powerhouse

Cover of small town Big Dreams

Philanthropy's powerhouse

As the circus ballerina in La Perichole, 1957; photo Louis Melancon,courtesy Metropolitan Opera Archives

Philanthropy's powerhouse

Portrait in riding costume as the queen in Martha, photo Louis Melancon, courtesy Metropolitan Opera Archives

Philanthropy's powerhouse

Opera founder John Crosby with Zeckendorf; photo Michael Heller/The New York Times

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