Kansas City has its share of activists — and then there is Sarah Ingram-Eiser, one of the staunchest advocates, lobbyists and volunteers in this region for the last 60 years. When she died in June, the city lost a champion of public health, politics, and all things artistic in her hometown. Her accomplishments are too many to list, and no one really knows how she did it all.
“My mother’s motto was simple,” her daughter Allie Sifers said recently. “She always said if you have more than others it is your job to help. Basically, she wanted to save the world.”
In the 1970s, Ingram-Eiser taught grade school and then became professor of humanities at Johnson County Community College. When she became widowed with two young children, she also sold real estate, including the famous Modernist octagonal home in Crestwood by “organic architect” Bruce Goff. Typically — she had friends from all over the world — she became fast friends with Mark Sappington, the man who bought the house. Four decades later, when Ingram-Eiser was 82 and ever the constant learner, she trooped through India with Sappington learning about dance, theater and Ayurvedic medicine.
Planned Parenthood was one of Ingram-Eiser’s passions, and she became president of the local chapter in 1980, as well as chair for the 10-state regional offices on the national board. “My mother had to brave picketers every time she went to work,” her daughter recalls, “and also when she lobbied for it in Jefferson City.”
Over the years, Ingram-Eiser also became president of the Kansas City Mental Health Association and served on numerous civic advisory boards, including Crippled Children’s Nursery, DeLaSalle’s Education Center and the Rose Brooks Center. She became board chair for Western Missouri Mental Health Center, and until the end was on the board of Truman Medical Center while remaining active in various suicide prevention groups. Forget trying to see her during tax season; for three months every year she worked as an associate at H&R Block for pro bono clients.
A true political dynamo, Ingram-Eiser helped run local and national political campaigns her entire life, in the last two decades campaigning vigorously for Claire McCaskill and Emanuel Cleaver (whom she called “The Rev”). In 1993 she was selected by the governor to be one of four members of a bi-partisan board of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners. Perhaps her greatest political honor was being chosen by the USA State Department to travel numerous times to cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and work with other officials from United Nations’ member countries to help guarantee democratic elections after that region’s catastrophic civil wars.
Ingram-Eiser was no less energetic when it came to promoting the visual and performing arts, all of which she deemed necessary for any great city, and all of which she thoroughly enjoyed. Phyllis Hart, Ingram-Eiser’s closest friend from childhood, remembers how her schoolmate nonchalantly talked her into visiting an artist’s studio one day. “Sarah’s sister Fudie was best friends with Jessie Benton, Thomas Hart Benton’s daughter. So she knew Tom and decided we should go see him. I still remember how impressive he was and all the wonderful artworks in his studio.”
Ingram-Eiser loved travelling but was compelled to combine business with pleasure. When Nepal suffered horrendous earthquakes in 2015, when she was in her late 70s, she spent weeks with a group to help repair and repaint monastery walls. When she visited Africa, it was to help in the preservation of gorillas.
Her impact on arts institutions was profound. Ingram-Eiser was co-founder of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Guild of the Friends of Art and helped found the Friends of Chamber Music. She was chair of the Missouri Repertory Theatre Guild, vice-president of the Greater Kansas City Metroplex for the Performing Arts, trustee of UMKC’s Conservatory of Music, and most recently was on the Membership Guild for the Kansas City Ballet. She tirelessly fundraised for many arts groups, including the Kansas City Art Institute’s “Art of the Car.”
She was the consummate season ticket holder and could be found most evenings at either the Kansas City Symphony, the Harriman-Jewell Series, the Bach Aria Soloists, the Unicorn Theater, Musical Theater Heritage, performances by UMKC’s Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, or events by all the above institutions for which she volunteered.
A great chef, Ingram-Eiser was known for her lively dinner parties where she introduced people from various art disciplines to one another across the aisle. But “what Sarah most possessed,” her neighbor and fellow philanthropist Jack Holland noted, “was generosity, which I think is the most important attribute anyone can have.”
Her parents were Max and Virginia Foresman, who are buried at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. She was preceded in death by her husband, John Stover Ingram-Eiser, with whom she had two children, Alexandra Ingram-Eiser Sifers (Timothy), and Adam Stover Ingram-Eiser (Grace). Her four grandsons are Jackson Sifers, Connor Sifers, Benjamin Ingram-Eiser and Tyler Ingram-Eiser, all of whom delighted her and made her very proud.