Generosity takes shape in so many different ways and often has humbling, inspirational results. Whether you’re moved to make a gift to VanderCook, reach out and reconnect with a former student, fellow alum, or colleague we hope the stories you’ll read here touch your heart as they have touched ours. Sharing our gifts and our stories brings us closer together and together, we can accomplish great things.
This past spring, received a gift for the Great Teachers Scholarship Fund from Blake Wiener, a retired band director and MECA student. Blake shared a very touching story about the importance of music and Jason, a very special young man. We share it with you because it is a powerful reminder of the responsibility we have to secure the future of music education.
Jason’s story is one of many stories connected to music education and to VanderCook. Music gave Jason a purpose, a goal, an identity, and a dream for his future. And now Jason’s legacy is giving us an opportunity to pay it forward, to make a difference for another young person whose life has been enriched by music….another dreamer.
“Many years ago when I was still teaching in Medinah, a fellow teacher said I should make contact with Jason, a student who was “lost and confused.” My colleague thought Jason would benefit from being part of our band program. You know me well enough to know I had to meet this child and invite him to be in our music program. Jason decided he would like to be a drummer and I said - let’s do it! A 5th grader at the time, Jason was having trouble in his classes. As I got to know him better, I learned his father was an alcoholic and a drug addict and his mother was nowhere to be found. His grandparents were his legal guardians. No wonder Jason had issues.
I contacted his grandmother to make sure she was ready to support Jason in his band endeavor. She was on board 100%. The great part of this story is Jason took to music with a real fervor. He joined the summer percussion program taught by Kevin Lepper and made a real connection with Kevin. Jason’s grades improved, as did his ability to cope with all of the social issues he faced. Jason finished his years at Medinah Middle School and went on to Lake Park High School where he became very involved in the marching band and concert band programs – thanks to Kevin Lepper and Ken Snoeck. Things were going great until a very fateful day.
Jason came to my school to have me help him prepare his audition for the snare drum line at Lake Park. We spent about 45 minutes working on his audition materials. He got on his bike and left for home to get ready for marching band rehearsal. About an hour and a half later, I received a phone call from a band parent telling me Jason had been hit and killed by a train coming into the Roselle train station. You can imagine my shock and my heartbreak.
After the funeral services I told his grandmother I would stay in touch, which we did for several years. Five years ago she moved to Florida and we still continued to communicate two or three times a year. Just recently, I received an unexpected card from her with a check for $1,000 and the following message:
With the anniversary of Jason’s death I couldn’t help but think of how much music saved my grandson. He had plans to major in music at VanderCook when he finished his years at Lake Park. This dream of his did not materialize. However, I thought it appropriate to so something to help out another student with the same dream. I am enclosing a check for $1,000 to you. I know you will find the right place in the music world where this money will be used to help someone who has the same dream as Jason.
The bottom line is this: I couldn’t think of a better place to give the money than VanderCook. Both Kevin Lepper and Stacey Larson knew Jason and I am sure they would agree. And I am certain Jason would approve of my decision, too.
London Johnson, B.M.Ed. 2011
I was inspired to attend VanderCook by three educators who played major roles in developing my passion for music. My elementary and high school band directors both graduated from VanderCook. My private lesson and trumpet ensemble instructor worked full-time at VanderCook. I entered VanderCook as a passionate trumpet player with limited experience in performance and teaching.
Today, I stand before my general music and choir students as a well-rounded VanderCook alumna with experience playing in orchestra and singing in choir in addition to playing in band. The best thing about VanderCook is that you never leave it. Although I have graduated, I still return to the school on weekends to play in multiple ensembles, ask questions, use resources from the library, and continue my growth as a music educator.
The network of fine musicians, friends, educators, mentors, and supporters you build as a student at VanderCook is priceless. The VanderCook curriculum allows a student to continually raise the bar for instrumental and vocal performance and education simultaneously by providing each student the opportunity to perform in band, choir, and orchestra each semester.
For the past one hundred years, people have been helping each other to share their passion for music with others and VanderCook has become a legacy because of it. I was the recipient of many scholarships from VanderCook, including the Victor Zajec Scholarship (2009-2010). The monetary assistance I received from these scholarships seemed to have been heaven sent. There were times I thought I might not be able to return to VanderCook for another semester because as an independent student, I could not get approved for more loans or government assisted financial aid. Receiving a scholarship at VanderCook was a very heart-touching and memorable event because I was able to meet the donors and their families.
By supporting VanderCook, you are not only supporting its students, programs, facilities, and community; but also helping to build a stable foundation upon which a love, understanding, and sense of ownership of music can be built. You not only assist VanderCook students but also reach out to each student with whom our alumni go on to share their passion for music.