Through her performances on stage and her work behind the scenes, Esther Becker Simplot has always had a dedication and commitment to the performing and visual arts. Esther was one of seven children and grew up on a rural Wisconsin farm during the Great Depression. The Becker home was filled with music. Esther’s father played the piano, organ and accordion and had perfect vocal pitch. Esther went away to school at MacMurray College in Illinois and graduated with a degree in music.
While working in New York City and studying voice, she met J.R. “Jack” Simplot when he came to the office where she worked to borrow money for the expansion of his Pocatello fertilizer plant. They fell in love and Esther moved west.
Esther got involved with the performing arts in Boise soon after moving here. She quickly realized that rehearsal and office space were critical needs for the performing arts to survive and thrive and she began looking for ways to help. “When I first arrived in Idaho, the Boise Philharmonic was well established. The ballet and opera were in their embryonic stages but there had always been a large number of people interested in these art forms,” Esther said.
When the Hendren Furniture Building in downtown Boise came up for sale, Jack purchased the building, promising to establish an endowment fund at the newly established Idaho Community Foundation if Esther could raise the funds to pay for major renovations. She succeeded and the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy opened its doors in the fall of 1992, housing Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho and the Boise Philharmonic. Jack held up his end of the deal and established a $1.1 million endowment at ICF to support the Academy.
After 27 years as Chairman of the Board, which operates and manages the Academy, Esther retired and serves in an advisory position.
Boise was a small city of 60,000 people when she arrived and she said the changes to the city and its cultural organizations, including the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Idaho Historical Museum and many smaller organizations has been wonderful to watch. “It becomes quite difficult to select from the long list of entertainment choices,” she laughed. “Boise has always been a huge supporter of all things cultural and its star continues to shine.”
Esther is very happy to be back at The Arid Club. “For many years it was the “center of our universe” and it kind of feels like coming home.”