Music program at UNK receives $2 million in private gifts
Donation is largest private gift in history of music department.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney Department of Music and Performing Arts has received private gifts totaling $2 million from an anonymous donor, including $500,000 to permanently endow a chair in the music department. The chair will be named the Ronald J. Crocker Chair in Orchestra, and Crocker, professor of music and performing arts at UNK, will be the first faculty member to hold the chair created in his name. Crocker also directs the Kearney Symphony Orchestra. The gift announcement was made Tuesday evening at the symphony orchestra’s last performance of the season.
The donor’s gifts include $1.4 million over the last several years to provide scholarships for piano and strings students in the UNK music department. In addition, the donor is willing to provide another $100,000 in the form of a challenge grant; that money will be received if other donors can provide $150,000. The challenge grant would be used to recruit music students from around the country to UNK.
“This is the largest gift in the music department’s distinguished history at UNK and provides not only fantastic opportunities for UNK students, it also enhances the campus’ cultural impact in the community and region,” said Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “This is a tremendous day not only for UNK students, but for the community overall.”
Creating the orchestra chair not only formalizes a relationship between the Kearney community and the university, it recognizes the contributions of a long-time faculty member in the UNK Department of Music and Performing Arts. Crocker is in his 43rd year at UNK, where he started as assistant director of bands in 1966. Crocker is also interim director of UNK’s theater program, interim chair of art and art history, and associate dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts.
“I think part of the award – the gift that’s being given – is an acknowledgement of Ron as a person,” said Valerie Cisler, chair of the department.
The Crocker chair will be a five-year appointment that can be renewed every five years. Crocker has served as the director of the community orchestra for 12 years.
“In every way, this is a gift that will benefit the university and the community,” Crocker said. “I fully expect that the result of this will be the ongoing future of the orchestra and how it will continue to be a community/university orchestra well into the future.”
The symphony orchestra, except for a few years it did not meet during World War II, is essentially 100 years old, and it still reflects a strong sense of community.
“I can’t think of another organization on campus that encompasses more types of people – faculty, staff, students and community members of all ages – who come together to perform,” Cisler said.
The orchestra is made up of faculty members from the music department, faculty members from other departments, a vice chancellor, talented high school students, UNK students and members of the community. Its youngest member is age 14, and its oldest member is 86.
Beyond recognizing Crocker’s commitment to the orchestra, the music department and UNK, the gift positions the orchestra for a strong future, Cisler said.
“This gift serves as a cornerstone for the future of the orchestra, of this department and the area of strings,” she said. “We are very, very grateful.”
Jon Abegglen, vice president of development for the University of Nebraska Foundation, noted that UNK is currently in a fundraising campaign to raise $50 million with top goals of student and faculty support.
“We are very grateful for this gift, which provides generous support for students and faculty, and provides great momentum for the campaign,” he said.
Abegglen said he was hopeful that other donors would be able to meet the challenge grant, which would bring more music students to campus. All gifts for the challenge grant will go to the UNK Music Student Recruitment Fund, which would provide resources for on-campus events for prospective orchestra and piano students, program promotion and for faculty to travel to recruit students to UNK.