Judd Herberger loved art all his life. Friends and family remember Herberger as one of the most generous and unforgettable people, providing space and potential for others to benefit from art in their lives.
He passed away at 79 from heart failure on Oct. 27, just 10 days after hosting donors at his home for the American Heart Association’s Phoenix Heart Ball.
Herberger and his wife Billie Jo were benevolent supporters of the Heart Ball event normally held in November.
‘Ready to tackle the world’
Herberger and his parents moved to Arizona in the 1940s.
The family was the original benefactors of Herberger Theater Center which opened in 1989 in Phoenix. The Herberger Theater now has seven individual theaters that perform there, an art gallery and an outside area created during the coronavirus pandemic so the show could go on.
The theater’s website says Herberger was involved with the theater since the beginning: “If you ask Judd where he was the week of the grand opening…he will proudly explain he was working day and night to finish the Grand Staircase, completing it the morning of the celebration around 5 a.m.”
Herberger attended Arizona State University but dropped out to become a home builder. He was just “ready to tackle the world,” said Billie Jo.
Along with his brother Gary, Herberger eventually took over the family business, Herberger Enterprises, a Scottsdale real estate and property management company. He was an investor and developer of Kierland Commons and residencies, partnering with Woodbine Development. It was the largest rezoning project in Phoenix’s history in 1991.
Herberger was a successful businessman, but he is most remembered for his passion and support of the arts.
Billie Jo described to The Arizona Republic how Herberger cared about children learning art and going to the theater because they may not be exposed to the arts otherwise.
She said Herberger saw the benefit of art as taking them out of the real world and putting them in a magical place.
When Judd’s brother Gary died from heart failure in 2017, he said in an interview with The Arizona Republic that the family passion for the arts “just came in naturally. It’s sort of in our DNA.”
Herberger cared about all aspects of art, from ballet to child’s play, family friend Jennifer Moser said. Moser remembers Herberger as full of life and laughter, who always had funny stories to tell.
One of the programs Herberger was involved with is Kids in Focus, a nonprofit that aims to empower children who have experienced trauma “through the restorative power of photography and with the guidance of dedicated mentors,” according to their website.
Herberger and Billie Jo became involved with Kids in Focus starting in 2019 when they volunteered for the annual fundraiser of Noche para los Niños. This year, they had signed on again to co-chair the event.
Karen Shell, founder of Kids in Focus, said the Herbergers’ support brought a shot of enthusiasm they needed after a difficult year.
Shell describes Herberger as a generous, authentic, kind-hearted, spirited, passionate supporter of the community and one of the most genuine people she’s ever met.
“He was not just generous with his money, but generous with his spirit. He leaves behind an incredibly powerful legacy, truly a jewel of our state. We’re so lucky to have had him.”
Kids in Focus plans to honor Herberger at Noche para los Niños Thursday, Nov. 4.
“Because of you, the arts shine brighter, as do the smiles of so many children,” Shell wrote in an email to Herberger.
On May 12, 2021, Herberger and his wife were inducted into the Herberger Arts & Broadcast Hall of Fame for their philanthropy.
Billie Jo and Herberger had the same love for art passed down from their parents. “It’s part of your world, part of your life, and I had that passion in me,” Billie Jo said. They met through his mother. “She just knew I was the girl for her son.”
She described how they would eat lunch in the dining room, dinner and breakfast on the terrace, and have a nightcap and music before bed in a routine she still follows.
“I feel like he’s here with me. I will remember him in everything I do and everywhere I go, all through this beautiful high-rise and painting and pictures that I’m never going to move because they’re part of our history.”
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.