Family Creates The Jeff Zaniker Memorial Foundation for the Arts to Support Local Art Organizations

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer  /  Amy Payne

Jill and Jeff Zaniker met during their sophomore year in college, and their love story blossomed from there. They married, had three children — Alexi (22), Emily (20) and Elise (18), and, from an early age, they introduced their daughters to the arts.

“Jeff and I felt strongly about exposing the girls to all realms of art — museums, theatre, the symphony,” Jill says. “We often purchased six tickets to the Broadway series shows and let the girls rotate bringing a friend along so they could acquaint others with it, too.”

In 2003, Jeff was diagnosed with MS, and though it affected his gait, it certainly didn’t affect his zest for life. In fact, always a giver, the diagnosis only prompted him to do more to help others, so for three summers straight, he rode his bike from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, with a team of seven other cyclists to raise money for MS.

Last March Jeff was on a business trip out west when he suffered a pulmonary embolism. He had a blood clot in his lung that broke free and hit his heart, killing him instantly. When Jill got word of what had happened, her world crashed around her.

“I was in complete shock. He was only 49,” Jill says. “We’d been planning to settle into our empty nest and enjoy some quality time together. I was blessed to have almost 30 years with the love of my life, but losing him was soul-crushing.”

Intent on doing something to honor his memory, Jill and her daughters brainstormed ways they could use his legacy to “pay it forward.” Though the family will continue to raise money for MS as well as support two orphanages in Bolivia, which Jeff supported, they also wanted to find a way to continue their passion for the arts. One of Jill’s favorite quotes is from author John Steinbeck, who said, “The theatre is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.”  

Jeff was one of those people. So, last spring the family founded the Jeff Zaniker Memorial Foundation for the Arts, a 501c3 charity to help local arts organizations with operational and educational endeavors in Carmel.

“We’d like to get to the point where we could offer grants for local arts organizations to help with operational things they need,” Jill says. “Also, potentially offer scholarships for art and theatre classes, music lessons — things like that.”

Jill thinks it would also be great for the foundation to send children and adults to the theatre who otherwise could not afford to go.

“You never know what other people are going through at any given moment, but when you sit down in that theatre chair, you get an hour or two to escape reality,” Jill says. “In that time, you’re offered a nice distraction from your everyday life.”

Though the foundation is just in its infancy stage, Jill is already making plans to grow it. She hopes to host an event in the spring around the anniversary of her husband’s death. Eventually, her dream is to be self-sustaining and hold events once or twice a year.

“It would be cool to have some recipients of one of the art or theatre classes come back and tell their stories,” Jill says. “I think that would be a great way to honor Jeff and keep his memory alive.”

Donations to the Jeff Zaniker Memorial Foundation for the Arts can be mailed to 30 N. Rangeline Rd. in Carmel 46032 or online at For more information, visit

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