Leaving a Legacy: Kent State Stark Deans Give to Connect Campus to Loved Ones

After school, the behemoth of a piano loomed large, yet its black and white ivories still called to the little girl whose feet could barely reach its pedals. And for the boy who grew up in a household brimming with books, burying his nose in them set the tone early: never stop learning. 

While their backgrounds are as varied as the ways they’ve chosen to give, for two Kent State University at Stark deans, giving to the campus means leaving a legacy etched by education – and an intent. That these dollars will provide for the kind of hope that prompts the first step toward a new tomorrow. 

Dean Denise A. Seachrist, Ph.D., and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Robert D. Sturr, Ph.D., are both administrators at the Stark Campus, but they have chosen different methods of giving. And there’s a myriad of approaches to giving that are just as unique as individual donors, said Beth Fuciu, associate director of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement.

“There are so many ways to give. For some, they give now. Such gifts often come by way of payroll deductions and one-time funds directed toward current student scholarships,” Fuciu said. “And then, there are endowments that begin after you pass, helping future students. These planned gifts often honor loved ones, leaving a legacy.”

Seachrist gives in honor of her late husband, Charles P. Wentz. Sturr gives to honor his late parents, George B.T. Sturr and Dr. Angela R. Young. 

While Seachrist’s contributions are planned gifts, Sturr’s are current scholarships. 

“This demonstrates how donors can give in ways that are most impactful to them and how your assets can truly work for you,” Fuciu said. 

Neither Seachrist nor Sturr are strangers to giving, contributing throughout the years: Seachrist donated to the Fine Arts Building renovation and is the namesake of a practice room in the building; Sturr has enrolled in payroll deductions to give to the campus’ Last Dollar Scholarship fund.  

‘You need a Steinway’

Seachrist is a proud product of the Kent State University School of Music, graduating with her Ph.D. and going on to become the school’s director. 

“If it hadn’t been for the education that I received at the School of Music, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she explained. And her career has run the gamut – from student, faculty, administrator and director to dean of Kent State Stark. 

Seachrist, who minored in piano and majored in vocal performance, grew up playing an enormous, 19th century piano – one that engulfed an entire wall of her family’s Columbiana County home. 

When Seachrist was in high school, her mother surprised her with a welcomed gift for which she had been saving: a Baldwin piano. Sure, it did the job, but when Seachrist and Charlie had the opportunity to visit a Steinway & Sons piano gallery, shortly after the Kent School of Music became an all-Steinway school, one of them was hooked. 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the musician.

“Charlie said all along, ‘You need a Steinway,’ ” Seachrist said. 

And Charlie finally “wore me down,” Seachrist says with a laugh. The couple purchased a Steinway M Series player piano that caught the eye of the retired aerospace engineer. The player piano has many features, including video. “You can play right along with classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz,” Seachrist explained. “Charlie, being the engineer that he was, was fascinated with the technology. Plus, he could play it, too.”

And he did. Especially during times when Charlie was being treated for colon cancer, the player piano brought great joy. “That instrument is very, very special, and he got much enjoyment out of that piano,” Seachrist said.

The player piano will serve as the couple’s in-kind gift to the School of Music, which will also receive another gift that has fond memories attached.

Blossom Music Center was also very close to their hearts. Seachrist and Charlie, and some of their closest friends and family, would catch concerts there in the summer, complete with fireworks and fun.

“Charlie had a huge appreciation for music and, of course, music was my passion and vocation,” Seachrist said. 

That’s why it made sense to establish The Denise A. Seachrist and Charles P. Wentz Kent Blossom Music Festival Visiting Artist Series. The fund will be used to bring visiting artists to Kent Blossom Music Festival for annual performances and master classes.

A planned gift

Finally, Seachrist has established a planned gift, The Denise A. Seachrist and Charles P. Wentz Endowed Scholarship at Kent State Stark. 

“The community at Stark just welcomed us so much,” said Seachrist, adding that Stark County has always felt like home.

Her goal is to provide a scholarship opportunity with few restrictions. Seachrist, in fact, was the beneficiary of a very specific scholarship – that, in addition to the ones she’d already received – helped propel her undergraduate college career. Still, the scholarship hadn’t been given in the six years prior to her receiving it. 

“I happened to hit all the markers,” Seachrist said. “If you have money to give, you want to touch as many lives as you can. Sometimes, without meaning to, donors make their scholarships so restrictive that the money just sits. Gifts that can be used ensure we get to impact the lives that go on after ours.”

‘A better future tomorrow’

Sturr grew up in a house full of books, so it’s little surprise he would become an English professor. While his father, also a professor, died when Sturr was just 24 years old, his memory still greets Sturr in unexpected ways. 

“I’ll still come across his handwriting in books I now own that were once his,” Sturr explained. A turn of the page might reveal a thought his father once had about a text – providing for a shared idea even today. 

“Education mattered a lot to both my parents,” said Sturr, the youngest of seven and one of three who went on to a career in education. And while none of the Sturr children would go on to become a medical doctor, Sturr promised his mother he’d encourage any student who may be interested in studying a pre-med concentration – a requirement for the Dr. Angela R. Young Scholarship.  

“My parents felt it was important to attend school without carrying a lot of debt,” he said. “And while I know $1,000 scholarships aren’t a huge amount, I felt, if this could help a student work 20 hours a week instead of 30, my parents would be honored.”

After all, if either scholarship – in honor of Young or the George B.T. Sturr Scholarship, which is geared toward students in the humanities – provides students with the opportunity to focus on their growth – to enjoy learning for learning’s sake – then the goal is accomplished. 

Sturr targeted students with a 2.75 GPA for both scholarships. “I didn’t want students to feel they have to be a rock star, just that they are doing their best,” he said. “I hope students are still maybe finding themselves.

“Fortunately, you don’t have to have a chunk of money to make a difference,” added Sturr, who, along with his wife, have made donations to their alma maters. 

But the Stark Campus has been a part of Sturr’s life since the late 1990s, and for nearly 25 years students have taken his English courses to learn about literature and how words – and decisions – can make a powerful impact.

“By attending college,” he said, “you make the choice to encounter those hard choices: how to spend your money and your time today for a better future tomorrow.”

Forging ahead, together 

Like his father’s handwritten notes, Sturr hopes the scholarships will provide students with the opportunity to discover treasured moments.   

Seachrist finds her gifts as a way to ever connect the couple to the university – and each other.

It’s a way to pay forward the gift of an education that has meant so much. As the music plays on, the player piano that Charlie so appreciated, and may have gotten him through some of the darkest days of his cancer treatment, along with the love of music he and Seachrist shared will go on for a lifetime – and even longer.

“When I think about the connections we all have the opportunity to make here on this Earth, and that we get to have an effect on future generations, is just a wonderful, beautiful thing,” she said. 

Students are armed with the ability to dream, encouraged to take that first step, forging ahead toward a brighter tomorrow.

Because of Angela and George.

And Charlie.
 

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POSTED: Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 4:29pm
UPDATED: Monday, March 22, 2021 - 10:36am
WRITTEN BY:
Melissa Griffy Seeton