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Eleanora Meloun, 'the wind beneath our wings,' dies at age 91

Eleanora Meloun receives a thank you from Myra Grant and Dr. Phil Sellers. Eleanora Meloun receives a thank you from Myra Grant and Dr. Phil Sellers.

Eleanora Meloun, a generous philanthropist who funded causes for children, education and the performing arts in Hendersonville, died Monday after suffering a series of medical issues in recent weeks at her winter home in Naples, Fla. She was 91.

After first moving to Hendersonville as part of the G.E. family, Eleanora and her husband, Chuck, set up trust funds that channeled money to a wide variety of nonprofits and capital funds. Chuck first came to G.E. as an executive. Like so many G.E. employees and their families, Chuck and Eleanora returned to Hendersonville in retirement and plunged into active civic life and charitable causes.
"They were just extraordinarily generous people and had become deeply involved in this community and I would say it was almost like the G.E. family," said McCray Benson, the executive director of the Community Foundation of Henderson County. "She maintained an association and contact with spouses and people that had been a part of that family for years."
She had suffered a broken hip and then a heart attack, friends said.

"I called Maurean (Adams) last night and she said exactly what was in my heart," Elisha Freeman, executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center, said of the founding director of the agency. "She said, 'Many times Eleanora was the wind beneath my wings.' I just feel blessed that I got to know her. To me she was just a personal friend. She was very supportive of me as a person. You just always knew you had her in your corner.
"Beyond that, it's absolutely amazing what she did in the whole community. She just saw that whole big picture view of what our community needed and where it needed investment. To me she just literally transformed our community. She was well-read and well-informed. She knew what the issues were and understood them beyond the surface. Never mind that she had this incredible spirit."
Even with a broken hip, Eleanora — "a tiny bulldog" — was unbowed by her medical challenges. "Family members said she had taken rehab by storm, as you would expect Eleanora to do, right?" Freeman said. "She was always positive, never saw the negative."

Through her trust funds, Meloun managed and made the call on quarterly distributions, talking through ideas and requests.
"She would call us and we would talk about what her interests are," Benson said. "She had her core four or five entities she really believed needed support on an ongoing basis. For me she was just a remarkable lady who was clearly thoughtful in what she did and she cared deeply about what the results were for the people that she helped in the charitable work."
Across the nonprofit landscape on Monday, foundation presidents, board members and executive directors lamented her passing.
"Our community has lost an incredible light," Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Bill Humleker said in an email to patrons.
"I am quite sure the Children & Family Resource Center wouldn't be where it is today without Eleanora's support and encouragement," said Elisha Freeman, executive director of the agency that benefits young children, families and single moms. "She was our top donor and at just the right moments in time gave the financial support we needed to do big things. In fact, she initiated the construction of our building with the single largest gift to our campaign. She was absolutely committed to our mission.
"Most remarkable was her incredible spirit," Freeman added. "I'm not sure I've ever met someone so positive and encouraging about life. A true class act."

No publicity

"She's been generous to the foundation and to Pardee Hospital for years," said Kimerly Hinkelman, executive director of the Pardee Hospital Foundation. "She was always involved with any special campaign, prominent at all the events. But I think more important to me was what a great ambassador she was for Pardee. She loved Pardee and she was always telling people that we had the best doctors, why don't people go to Pardee?"
Generous as she was, she eschewed publicity.

"In fact she got annoyed with me when I wanted to make a big announcement about a gift," Hinkelman said. "She was quiet about her giving but she was not quiet about her love for the organization. She seemed to get a kick out of giving money and sitting back and watching how it helped."
Nonprofit leaders all had similar stories about how Meloun took an interest in them personally and had become a true friend.
"Like all of us, we feel like she was part of our life," she said. "So all these charities are sad because Eleanora was part of the fabric of their organizations. But for me it's also personal sadness to lose this woman who embraced me and helped me meet people. I've only been here two years and she would say things like, 'You know, I moved her from somewhere else, too. You'll fit in here.'"

The nonprofits she gave to are impossible to list, Benson pointed out, because they were so numerous. Her giving tilted strongly toward children but she also could be persuaded to give to a nonprofit that was in hard times, like the Flat Rock Playhouse, or one that had a special project under way, like the Interfaith Assistance Ministry's capital campaign.
"She would always look at the hospital, the Children and Family Resource Center, the Boys & Girls Club," he said, among many other charities. "She was a strong supporter of education as well. She supported BRCC and she supported the symphony."
If a charity approached Meloun, she listened then did her homework.
"She would call us up and ask, 'What's this capital campaign? What's it aiming to do?' More than likely she made a contribution. She supported IAM I think recently. The list would go on and on. She was a strong human services donor."
Services had not been announced on Tuesday.
"I cannot imagine not having some service to celebrate her in the community," Benson said. "I'm sure Scott will take the lead in helping us announce that."
"She was of that era that she was a lady in how she presented things but she could talk straight about things," Benson said. "In the old movie terms, she was one of the dames. She was not a curmudgeon. She was always positive in the way she talked about things. Once she made a donation, she would say it was up to us to do the work. She was already creating next steps for us to walk on. She was a grand dame."