Man behind the music at BGSU

Richard Kennell inside
the organ studio at BGSU Moore Musical Arts Center (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)

Richard Kennell has played saxophone and directed bands. In the past 31 years he’s played a much bigger
instrument – the College of Music at Bowling Green State University.
"Even if I’m not making music I get great joy out of facilitating others making music," he
Friday Kennell will perform his last official duty as dean, participating a ceremony honoring two of the
college’s distinguished graduates – Matthew Balensuela and Ryan Nowlin.
Kennell arrived on campus in 1980 as an assistant dean from DePaul University and for the past nine years
he’s served as dean of the college. He previously also served as interim dean on two occasions,
including a stint just two years after he arrived on campus.
At 33, he said, he wasn’t quite ready for the job. "It almost killed me," he said. It also left
him with the feeling he never wanted to be dean.
That changed over the years as he thrived as an administrator in a growing and developing college.
The BGSU’s College of Musical Arts, Kennell said, is distinguished by the breadth and quality of its
offerings across disciplines. Some schools, he said, may be known as a band schools or choral schools,
bit the CMA covers the gamut.
It has strong offerings in orchestra, band and choirs. It’s home to the MidAmerican Center for
Contemporary Music, and has established a doctoral program in contemporary music.
Its ethnomusicology programs have grown as has its jazz program, which has helped bring the college into
the community through regular Wednesday appearances by faculty and students at One49North downtown.
"When I look I see quality work in every area," he said.
Kennell announced his retirement a year ago. At a reception in his honor, Provost Ken Borland said he
asked him to stay a year, so the university could continue to benefit from his "tremendous"
institutional memory. Kennell, Borland said, personifies the college.
"I can’t tell the difference between Dick Kennell and the College of Musical Arts," the provost
His work has laid the groundwork for the future.
Kennell credited his high school band director with inspiring him to go into music. Growing up in rural
Dansville, N.Y., just south of the Finger Lakes region in western New York State, he was the first
member of his family to go to college. His band director visited his home to explain what going to
college would entail.
Kennell went to Northwestern University in Chicago as a music education major, and after graduation
achieved his goal of becoming a band director at Rolling Meadows, Ill. He moved into higher education
administration at DePaul University.
In administration, he said, the results of his actions are delayed. As a band director, he gives a
downbeat and he can hear the results. As an administrator, he signs a directive and waits six months or
more for the project’s realization.
Kennell knew about BGSU before he even applied for a job here. One of his best friends from Northwestern,
fellow saxophonist John Sampen, was on faculty. Kennell and his wife, Ilana, a pianist, would visit
Sampen and his wife, composer Marilyn Shrude, here.
Kennell recalled driving in Bowling Green and asking Ilana whether they could be happy living in a small
town setting after so much time in Chicago. They were dubious.
But then the assistant dean position opened up, and with Sampen’s encouragement he applied.
He and Ilana moved here with their infant son Jonathan.
Bowling Green, Kennell said, proved a great place both to work and to raise a family that grew to include
a second son Aaron. Ilana Kennell taught piano at the University of Toledo and at the Interlochen Arts
Camp. Both sons are trombonists, and Aaron is pursuing a graduate degree in music. Jonathan is a
computer engineer, having built his first computer with his father, an early computer enthusiast.
Kennell developed software that greatly enhanced student recruitment for the college, Sampen said.
In order to have the breadth of quality, Kennell said, "you have quality students" and those
students must be distributed in the various programs and instruments. "Enrollment management is a
foundation of a quality program."
The dean’s broad range of interests and talents have been essential to his success. Sampen said.
"He understands the problems of different disciplines," he said. That’s helped him developed
contacts throughout the university, and the "respect and attention" he’s attracted has helped
the College of Musical Arts.
"He’s helped the college grow," Sampen said. Even in a time of economic stress "we’re
still growing. That’s incredible."
Linda Petrosino, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said at the reception that Kennell was
known for promoting events in the college, encouraging colleagues and students to attend one of the many
performances at the college.
That outreach became global. When he arrived on campus, Kennell said, "going abroad was just a
Last year 19 faculty members traveled to China with more going this year. The college has a regular
connection with an institution in Corfu, Greece. Students can study in Florence, Italy, and students
have traveled and studied in Ghana and Indonesia.
That outreach is reflected in the student body which now has an international cast.
While retirement will bring travel opportunities for the Kennells, they don’t plan to leave Bowling
Green. "It’s our home," Kennell said.
He said retirement will allow him to provide more support to Ilana, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
"I feel terrific I can do that."

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