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Women of the Year: Betsy Godlewski quietly raised millions for Spokane projects like The Fox

Betsy Godlewski poses for a photo at the Campbell House 125th Anniversary Gala in 2023.  (Photo by James E. Mangis)

Betsy Godlewski has long held a fascination for historic architecture and early theaters – particularly those in the Art Deco style.

During a 20-year development and fundraising career in Spokane, Godlewski found perfect matches to those interests. She raised millions to restore Spokane’s iconic Fox Theater, and in her last job, Godlewski worked on funding for the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture.

Godlewski retired in June as the MAC development director, but all of her work in Spokane continues to be enjoyed by the community, said Alison Highberger, a former coworker.

“She was instrumental earlier in her career in saving the Fox Theater,” Highberger said. “She was the one who found the money and figured it all out.”

Godlewski, 69, said she fell into development work because of her love for the Fox Theater, at first as a volunteer.

“The Fox was a trifecta for me – it was a historic theater that I loved, it was Art Deco architecture that I loved and it was downtown that I loved,” she said.

“I had written the nomination to put the theater on the National Register of Historic Places, so I knew the history and had done a lot of research. I realized I could tell the story of the Fox to people and get them interested.”

She helped secure grants from Save America’s Treasures and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as $6 million in tax credits.

By 2004, she officially became development director of the $31 million capital campaign for the Fox Theater renovation. The venue reopened in 2007.

“What’s so fun now is to go into the theater for a performance, just walk around and listen to people talking about it,” Godlewski said. “They’re looking at the murals, those amazing light fixtures, then you hear somebody say, ‘We saved the Fox.’ Yes, Spokane saved the Fox.

“The symphony has a wonderful place to play with incredible acoustics, we have a great venue for performers from outside the city, and it added another block of economic development. It saved an incredible building.”

Born and raised in Georgia, Godlewski came to Spokane in 1978 for her early work as an exploration geologist. She explored minerals at outdoor sites for an oil company’s Spokane base for Washington, Montana and Nevada.

She met her husband, David Godlewski, at the Historic Davenport Hotel during the Northwest Mining Association’s annual meeting.

With her work backing history and culture, Godlewski also served on historic preservation boards. She held a YWCA job in development before going to the MAC for 11 years.

She and her husband now have their first grandson on the west side of the state, and the couple have plans to travel, another of Godlewski’s passions.

There are plenty of to-dos just in the U.S., she said, including sites with that Art Deco design.

“The Fox Theater in Detroit – I’ve only seen pictures and it’s just incredible, so yes, I would love to go there. Then in New York there’s Radio City Music Hall. New York City has just tons of Art Deco buildings.”

For the MAC, Godlewski said she equally enjoyed talking to people about the museum’s education, lectures and exhibits. “We’re also the repository and steward of the history and art of the tribal culture of Eastern Washington.”

She heard similar conversations at the MAC about people going to see a main visiting exhibit, but then getting more excited about a regional history display.

“Spokane is really fortunate to have a vibrant arts and culture community. That kind of sums up why I had so much fun working in this field.”