Marcia Kanner chaperoned her daughter Ellen’s fourth-grade class from Sunset Elementary to HistoryMiami Museum for a field trip. Many parents are involved in their children’s schooling, but this trip turned into so much more.
That outing turned into a career for Kanner, altered the course of the museum, and led to a significant annual event in the city.
“Every public school fourth-grade class had to have a day at the [museum] and my mom was part of that. Suddenly, I had street cred. Here is my mom talking about the Indians and where they were,” remembered Ellen Kanner, a Miami food writer and author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”
“Both the museum and my mother could really bring history alive and make it dynamic and pertinent and anything but fusty,” she said. “No disrespect to what our teachers taught us but this was a different way of looking at history.”
Kanner, who died Thursday at 82 of cancer, quickly became a volunteer, a board chair, fund raiser and, along with Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald, a co-creator of the Miami International Map Fair. She also was “a true friend of HistoryMiami Museum,” said Roxanne Cappello, senior vice president and chief financial officer of HistoryMiami.
We are truly saddened by Marcia’s passing. Always so positive, genuine and generous.
Roxanne Cappello, senior vice president and CFO of HistoryMiami Museum.
Kanner served as a museum trustee from 1975 to 1990, was board chair from 1984 to 1986, and remained active into her late 70s.
“Marcia believed an endowment was necessary to ensure the long-term financial viability of HistoryMiami,” Cappello said. “In the 1980s, she was a part of a group of board and civic volunteers who fund-raised on behalf of the Columbus Discovery Commemorative Fund — a matching gift endowment campaign challenge from Mickey Wolfson.”
In 1993, Kanner and Fitzgerald’s Map Fair started as a small gathering of map enthusiasts in the museum’s Archives & Research Center. The fair, featuring antique maps, charts and atlases, is now internationally recognized as the largest map fair in the Western Hemisphere, according to Cappello. The event will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018.
The first Map Fair featured David Banister, a map dealer and author from England, who, at Fitzgerald’s invitation, spoke at the museum. About 55 people attended.
This year’s Map Fair, held Feb. 3-5, drew more than 1,500 visitors to HistoryMiami. They came to see more than 40 map dealers from around the world and to peruse exhibits that covered the 16th century to the present. Prices for the maps ranged from $25 to $250,000. The owners of New York’s Martayan Lan Fine Antique Maps showcased a detailed map of South Florida that dated to 1856.
“Not every map in the world is historically significant, but it’s undeniable that every map holds valuable information,” Martayan’s co-owner Richard Lan told the Miami Herald.
Kanner delighted in the fair’s successes. “She was very proud of that,” her daughter said.
Born Aug. 24, 1935, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she moved with her family to South Florida in 1946.
“I think something about growing up in Massachusetts as a kid instilled in her a love of history. And that love of history, combined with a love of place, I think flowered as she worked with HistoryMiami,” said Ellen Kanner, who has written The Edgy Veggie food column for the Miami Herald.
That sense of place was a consistent trait through her life, her daughter added. The family home in Coral Gables that Kanner shared with her husband of 59 years, Lewis Kanner, has antique maps lining the walls.
“She always wanted you to know where you were in the world. That was something she told me on Mother’s Day. I think we knew it would not be long at that point,” her daughter said of her ever-active mother. “She was a staunch Democrat and a political junkie to the end, watching James Comey’s testimony the day she died of cancer.”
Kanner graduated from Miami Beach High and the University of Florida — “a fierce Gator” — and was modest, her daughter said. “Her parents always taught her it wasn’t what you had, it was who you were, and that was absolutely who she was. A super solid character. If Marcia took to you, you had it made. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for you.”
In 2001, to recognize Kanner’s service to HistoryMiami, the museum created the Marcia J. Kanner Award of Excellence for Service. The award is presented to individuals who exemplify dedication and service to the institution.
“Her model of dedicated service to the museum continues to be the standard by which the museum recognizes others that follow in her footsteps,” said Cappello.
In addition to her husband and daughter, Kanner’s survivors include her sister Natalie Segal. The family requests donations to the Kanner-Fitzgerald Trust, an endowment fund that provides for the long-term acquisition and preservation of HistoryMiami’s map collections and operational support to the Map Fair.
Services will be at 11 a.m. June 18 at Temple Israel, 137 NE 19th St., Miami.