Wayne Smisek became emotional nearly to the point of tears when discussing why he and his wife, Betz, donated a violin once owned by Thomas Jefferson and worth $350,000-$400,000 to the Colorado Masonic Library and Museum in Colorado Springs.
"When I think of Jefferson, the lodge and this group, it is to make good men better," Smisek said as his voice broke Saturday during a luncheon attended by about 30 Masons and others at the Garden of the Gods Club to celebrate the donation.
"We need to replant the seeds that were planted when this violin was last played (by Jefferson). We are here for the betterment of ourselves, society, our children and the future."
Smisek, a real estate investor who moved to Colorado Springs 17 years ago, bought the violin more than a dozen years ago at an auction in Colorado Springs that many other bidders were unable to attend because of a major snowstorm.
A Pueblo man put it up for auction shortly after buying it from the J.W. Forrester family, which had owned the violin for more than 125 years and eventually settled in Pueblo. Jefferson had given the violin to a slave named Ben, and it ended up with the Forresters shortly after the slave's death, said Brad Butler, a board member of the Chocolate Mountaineers Foundation, a nonprofit that the Smiseks created.
The violin will be displayed at the museum, 1130 Panorama Drive, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
The couple made the donation on behalf of the Chocolate Mountaineers Club, which is dedicated to helping parents instill virtues, values and discipline in children at a young age. Smisek came up with the idea for the organization in 2007 as the housing industry was starting to crash. He developed the structure of the organization, including membership levels, characters that symbolize certain virtues and values, while Betz wrote 27 activity and storybooks.
"I was looking at the values and ethics that permeated society at all levels and I was feeling there is something wrong, something missing in society," Smisek said. "The Chocolate Mountaineers Club is based on the golden rule and is designed to help kids understand the relationship between cause and effect."
Smisek said the group is named Chocolate Mountaineers Club because chocolate is sweet, mountaineers symbolize strength, self-reliance and determination and clubs are all about camaraderie, friendship and purpose. He plans to launch the group May 1 with a website, Chocolate MountaineersClub.com.