Music booster instrumental in students' lives
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff
Saturday, 17 November 2012 09:16
Talking to Karol Spencer, it doesn't take long before her late husband Herb Spencer is introduced into the conversation.
|Karol Spencer, of Pro Musica, at her home with travel posters which helped inspire her work. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Herb Spencer was a beloved French horn teacher at Bowling Green State University from 1971 until his death in 2000. His widow, also an educator, has carried on his dedication to BGSU music students as the spark plug behind Pro Musica.
The volunteer organization provides grants to students so they can travel to perform and attend conferences. And it's been one of Karol Spencer's passions since she joined in 2002.
"I knew Herb was having fun," she said, "and I wanted some of that fun, too."
Her husband, she said, "popped out of bed to play or practice or teach. He never worked a day in his life."
His annual trips to Belgium to perform showed her the importance of travel to artists.
"When you travel," said Karol Spencer, who is the Pro Musica president, "you never come back the same."
She spoke of one student who traveled with a group to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They brought down used instruments and taught in schools.
The student, whose parents provided everything she needed, later told Spencer that she couldn't believe how appreciative those students were for those beat up instruments and how eager they were to stay after school for music lessons.
Spencer's devotion stems from her own childhood, growing up poor in rural Pennsylvania. In the late 1960s after getting her degree she went to teach in an inner city school in New London, Conn. There she discover a level of poverty and racial tension she'd never experienced. It was in New London where she also met Herb Spencer, a member of the Coast Guard Academy Band.
He came to her school to give a concert. She recalled him resplendent in his dress uniform. After the concert he answered questions. Finally one of her more mischievous students started waving her hand.
"Are you married?" the child asked the horn player. No, he wasn't, he replied.
"Well, my teacher isn't married either," she told him.
He got her telephone number from the principal, and they ended up marrying.
They arrived in Bowling Green in 1971. Karol Spencer pursued her career in education, first as an elementary school teacher, then a principal in the Lakota District. She retired as director of pupil personnel services at the Sandusky County Educational Service Center in Fremont.
The couple adopted a 5-year-old boy, Don, with a reputation for being incorrigible. They raised him and he's served 18 years in the U.S. Army, earning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He's now stationed in Afghanistan.
Former Dean Richard Kennell drew Karol Spencer in the circle of the College of Musical Art when he asked her and the late Andy Housholder to host a reception at the college's annual competitions in music.
After that he suggested she join Pro Musica. Founded 28 years ago as Friends of Opera, Pro Musica over the years changed its focus to supporting student travel. From September 2006 to last June, Pro Musica has made $230,810 in 1,547 grants.
Kennell said Spencer's service to students extends beyond her work with Pro Musica.
"By nurturing student leadership through Pro Musica, Karol serves as a role model on how to make a difference," he said. "The College of Musical Arts is a better place because of Pro Musica, but our future communities will be better because of the many alumni who have been inspired by Karol Spencer."
She was instrumental in getting students involved in the program. At first, she said, only one student responded. He sang in choir, but was not a music major. Now the student memberships fluctuates between 50 and 100 students, joining about 200 members. Students can join for $5 and parents of students for $20. The regular memberships start at $35.
All the money, Spencer said, goes toward grants of $350 for domestic travel and $500 for foreign trips. When Pro Musica hosts events, the expenses are paid by members, not out of Pro Musica's funds. So what's raised through membership and the celebrity server fundraiser all go to student grants.
"Board members are passionate and generous people," Spencer said. Pro Musica has guidelines which the board adheres to strictly.
Recently composition professor Christopher Dietz approached the group about funding a new endeavor - bringing the Toledo Symphony Orchestra to campus to play the students' compositions. The project was deemed outside the mission of Pro Musica.
Later Spencer met Dietz in the halls of the Moore Center and asked how fundraising was going. He was falling short.
She asked how much he needed and then wrote a check to cover the amount. The inaugural Student Composer Reading Session was presented last week.
"You will not see a U-Haul truck behind my hearse," Spencer said. She had so little growing up that she resolved whatever she had "I would give it to people who are like minded and who will pay it forward.
"I had a happy, happy life. I really did. If you have a happy, happy life, it falls to you to give back."
Last Updated on Saturday, 17 November 2012 09:20