ANDERSON — Less than a year ago, Linda Thompson lost her husband, Joe, to COVID-19.
About three years before that, she underwent a double mastectomy and was declared free of the breast cancer that had ravaged her body.
The last five years of her life have taught her many lessons that, ultimately, she said, explain her decision to strap on a safety harness and rappel down the side of the First Merchants Bank building downtown to raise money for the Anderson Museum of Art.
“Live like you’re dying,” she said as she glanced up at the roof, 76 feet above Main Street in the city’s downtown.
“I’m not afraid to try new things. I feel like I owe it to Joe to live my best life, even more so because we both had COVID, and I survived and he didn’t.
“I want to live the very best life I can live and just be thankful that I am alive and can do these wonderful things.”
Sixty-four “Edgers,” each with their own story about what led them to take part in the museum’s second annual fundraiser, made the descent down the building’s west side throughout the day Saturday, many of them being cheered on by family, friends and co-workers.
Organizers hoped to raise more than $50,000 to go toward museum programming as well as other needs, such as a new roof for the museum’s home at the Carnegie Building a few blocks away.
“It’s symbolic of where we’ve come as a town and as a community that we’re holding events like this and that we’re supporting events like this,” said Kris Zinszer, a museum board member and committee chairman for the Over The Edge fundraiser.
“We want to bring people together, and we want to bring people to downtown Anderson. I think both of those things are healthy for our community and really help us to further build that community.”
For Marsha Utley, a member of the Anderson Women’s Art League, a trip down from the roof was a fitting way to celebrate her 74th birthday, which fell on Saturday.
“I just wanted to do something that was challenging on my birthday, to see if I could do it,” Utley said. “I am scared a little bit, but my granddaughter’s here with me and she’s a trooper.”
Utley volunteered at last year’s inaugural Over The Edge event and, urged on by friends and fellow Art League members, decided to fund raise and take the plunge herself.
She said supporting the museum and its programming is important because of the outlet the arts offer to people of all ages.
“People need the arts,” she said. “We have so many different people — artists, all different kinds of arts that just bring so much knowledge and wisdom. It’s just beautiful.”
Among the rappelers Saturday was nine-year-old Kalli Mikulski, the youngest “Edger,” who was eager for her chance to don a harness and conquer her fear of heights.
“I wanted my dad to see me do this,” she said. “I wanted to step off my biggest fear of heights and also try to make more money for the museum so we can have more things for the kids to see, and more activities for all the kids in need.”
Kalli’s mother Mandee, the art museum’s executive director, said the response to the event from those raising money, volunteers and vendors — as well as the estimated 3,000 people who showed up throughout the day — was overwhelming.
“I think that it’s awesome to see so many people in our community step up and step over for the arts,” Mikulski said.
“We are really working to elevate the arts here in Anderson, and the community support and everyone who gets involved, we really appreciate it.”
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.