My connection with Charleston begins in 1976 when I began my undergraduate degree. While I was actually a psychology major, everyone thought I was a theatre major due to huge amount of time I spent at Doudna. Working in the theatre office, the Dean's office, and being involved in every production from 1978 until I graduated in the summer of 1980. During that time, I was blessed enough to meet the woman who would become my roommate, and eventually my best friend for life, Dr. Patricia Poulter.
After graduating from EIU, I remained in Charleston working for the Charleston police until fall of 1984. These four years while no longer officially connected to the School of Arts and Humanities, I continued to reside with theatre majors, so it was still like being in college.
Fast forward to 1987, I met the man who would eventually be my husband, Pete Taylor. He shared my love for music and the arts as he played trombone in marching band in high school as well as college, Southern University in Baton Rouge. Due to Patty returning to EIU as music faculty after receiving her doctorate, Pete and I continued our connection to the College of Arts and Eastern. Not a homecoming passed that we were not on the corner of 6th and Jackson cheering on the marching band, often with Pete critiquing their formation. After the parade, on to Tent City for ham and beans at the CAH tent.
Our niece, Anna Stipe, a talented bassoonist, chose Eastern Illinois University for her undergraduate degree. Ecstatic doesn't even describe how Pete and I felt. My sister had moved to Oregon in 2000, so with Anna entering EIU in the fall of 2009 as a music education major; the opportunity to see our beloved niece every month was a dream come true. It was in 2009 that the relationship with EIU Department of Music was forever etched on our hearts.
We attended as many home football and basketball games as we could. Not for the sports but for the band. Wind Symphony concerts, recitals, Orchestra performances.... Pete and I were at Doudna for all of them.
In the winter of 2010, after a performance, Pete and I were speaking with the then conductor, Barry Houser. Jokingly I asked him if he could put together an all Gershwin concert for the Wind Symphony. Barry's response was, “Of course, if you will underwrite it.” The seed was planted.
Fast forward to February 2012, Pete and I had plans to go to Charleston on Saturday. The ESO was performing Gershwin. I was elated... it was the wind symphony, but still Gershwin live with Anna playing bassoon. Friday night Pete experienced a grand mal seizure and we soon learned he had stage 4 brain cancer. Pete would pass away the next month. He never had the chance to hear his beloved Princess play Gershwin on the stage at Doudna Fine Arts Center.
Pete and I had established a scholarship through College of Education for student teachers in honor of his sister, L. Joyce Taylor. Being able to honor his sister this way meant the world to Pete. Even though she did not attend Eastern or ever visit the campus as she passed away in Louisiana in 1991, Pete knew EIU was the right place for the scholarship. His love of EIU, Charleston, and our “family”, never was there a doubt about endowing this scholarship.
After his death in 2012, I endowed a scholarship in Pete's honor for incoming or transfer student who played trombone. The Pete Taylor Trombone Scholarship had its first recipient in the fall of 2013.
Through all these years, in the back of my mind, I was still thinking about the all Gershwin concert. Fast forward to summer of 2013, having dinner at Dr Alicia Neal's house, the new director of bands at Eastern. Patty and I were talking with a group of EIU music faculty about the scholarships and about Pete's love for Eastern. I asked Dr Neal if she would be willing to conduct an all Gershwin performance, if I were to underwrite it. OF COURSE was her response. Never having had the chance to conduct “Rhapsody in Blue”, Alicia was on board. We would work out the details.
Enter Randi, and the Foundation ... the planning for the concert began. Soon it wasn't just a one-time event, rather a fundraiser for Band Scholarships. Being able to attract the brightest and best musicians for bands (wind symphony, marching band, jazz) was very competitive amongst the state schools. EIU needed more scholarships for incoming students.
At the end of January 2014, Kate Henry, a graduate music student, was staying at my house for Illinois Music Educators Association. Sitting at the kitchen table drinking several pots of coffee, we were discussing life at EIU, her research of Dr. Earl Boyd, the Gershwin concert, and the need for scholarships at Eastern. It was as if all the planets aligned. Her knowledge and research of Dr Earl Boyd, the composer of the EIU fight song as well a foundational faculty for the EIU music department as we know it today, coupled with my desire to begin a new scholarship drive ... The Dr. Earl Boyd Scholarship was born. Coupling one of the all American composers, George Gershwin, with the Father of EIU Bands, “Rhapsody in EIU Blue” scholarship fundraiser took shape. We could announce plans for the gala at Kate's lecture about Dr. Boyd.
In a nutshell, that's my story ... I am sure there are pieces which I have forgotten, suppressed, or that are just lost in translation. The bottom line is EIU Band needs money to attract the brightest and best musicians from around the state. Being able to make our dream of an all Gershwin concert come true is a way I can continue to honor Pete's memory as well as his love and commitment to the EIU Department of Music.