FMC Endowment

The History of an Endowment…From Birth to Ten Years

Written in 2006 by Mary Kay Geston, Past President

Updated in 2010 by Bruce Becker, Executive Director

1996:  An Inspired Beginning

In the fall of 1996, ACDA of Minnesota’s annual fall conference was held on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, designed to honor the legacy of F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1955), founder of the St. Olaf Choir and “father” of a cappella choral singing in the United States.  Titled “F. Melius Christiansen:  The Man, the Legacy,” the conference celebrated the 125th anniversary of Christiansen’s birth and the contributions to the choral art made by this Norwegian immigrant during his tenure at St. Olaf College.  The closing concert, coordinated by ACDA-MN Past President Bruce Becker, was billed as a “once in a lifetime” event of grand proportion.  Gathered for the first time were choirs, each with a Christiansen-inspired choral heritage, from five Midwestern colleges with ties to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The conference’s closing concert was open to the public and an audience of over 7500 people heard choirs from Augsburg College, Concordia College-Moorhead, Gustavus Adolphus College, Luther College, and St. Olaf College.  Each choir performed individually under the direction of their respective conductors and a massed choir under the direction of Kenneth Jennings, St. Olaf College professor emeritus and conductor of the St. Olaf Choir from 1968-1990.  A new tradition was born.

Following that first anniversary concert, ACDA of Minnesota found itself in possession of monetary largesse from grateful concert-goers and sponsors.  These contributions were set aside by the ACDA-MN Executive Board to establish an endowment fund with F. Melius Christiansen as its namesake.  In creating the F. Melius Christiansen Endowment Fund, ACDA of Minnesota sought to honor and sustain Christiansen’s legacy, and the board set a lofty goal for the endowment of $500,000.

The board busied itself envisioning ways to spend the interest from the fund to guarantee a “vibrant future for exemplary choral music” in the land of 10,000 lakes.  They settled on a scholarship program for the continuing education and training of Minnesota choral directors.  Additionally, the board voted to ensure the stability of the state organization by funding a new position of part-time executive secretary.  Lastly, the board appointed a group of retired choral directors, many who served on the 125th Anniversary Committee, to serve as the endowment committee responsible for managing endowment-related matters.

Initial investment interest from the funds allowed only partial fulfillment of the committee’s goals.  Nevertheless, Minnesota’s leaders made a leap of faith in January, 1997 and initiated the F. Melius Christiansen Young Conductor Scholarship program which offered ten scholarships to attend Minnesota’s annual Summer Dialogue conference.  The endowment committee also partially funded the position of executive secretary for two years.  ACDA of Minnesota would never be the same.

Steady Growth and Remarkable Gifts

Over the next decade a steady stream of donations from individual, foundation, and corporate donors helped the endowment grow.  In its first five years the endowment funded thirty-nine scholarships to attend Summer Dialogue, seven scholarships to attend divisional or national ACDA conferences, and awarded $4,500 in graduate scholarships to ACDA-MN members.

The F. Melius Christiansen Endowment Fund is indebted to ACDA members and supporters of choral music whose faithful giving has been, and continues to be, essential to the endowment’s ability to invest in the choral life of Minnesota.  In its first ten years the endowment received notable gifts from members and friends.  Several retired state members have also made commitments to the endowment in their wills.

While individual donations are the lifeblood of the endowment, two remarkable gifts stand out in the endowment’s history.  In August, 2002 the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music (WSCM-6) was held in Minneapolis.  Chaired by ACDA-MN member Philip Brunelle, the board of directors for WSCM-6 created the International Choral Festival (ICF), a series of public concerts in Minneapolis and St. Paul featuring each of the international choirs that performed for registrants of the symposium.  In a gesture of goodwill and thanks for ACDA-MN member’s assistance, Brunelle presented the endowment with a check for $90,000 representing the proceeds from the ICF.  This singular donation generated great excitement about the endowment’s future prospects.

Minnesota members who served on the WCS-6 Organizing Committee were:

  • Philip Brunelle, President
  • Robert C. Johnson, Vice President
  • Diana J. Leland, Secretary
  • Frank Stubbs, Treasurer
  • Bruce W. Becker, Program Chair
  • Steven O. Boehlke
  • Lauretta Graetz
  • John Hoeschler
  • Wayne M. Kivell
  • Scott Romaine
  • Kathy Romey
  • Timothy Sawyer

Fast forward four years and the endowment committee’s well-laid plans for a second grand concert ten years after the first have come to fruition.  The F. Melius Christiansen 135th Anniversary Concert on November 19, 2006 at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, brought together choirs of Augsburg College, Concordia College-Moorhead, Concordia University-St. Paul, Gustavus Adolphus College, and St. Olaf College.  Once again, the massed choirs concluded the sell-out concerts, which were offered twice in one day, by singing F. Melius Christiansen’s beloved arrangement of “Beautiful Savior” under the direction of Kenneth Jennings.

At the 2006 anniversary concerts coordinated by ACDA-MN members Bruce Becker and Diana Leland, a one-of-a-kind $100,000 matching gift to the endowment fund from the Minnesota-owned Wenger Foundation was announced.  In response to this major gift, the endowment committee has redoubled its efforts to reach the original goal of $500,000.  Endowment committee members along with the entire membership of ACDA-MN worked diligently and successfully to raise the $100,000 by December 31, 2007 to meet the Wenger Foundation’s challenge. 

Our Future…Our Opportunity

In the fall of 2009, the stage was set for the next FMC Committee’s sponsored grand event, that of a Minnesota Collegiate Choral Festival, specifically featuring choirs from a non-Lutheran tradition.   The goal of the Committee was to reach out and celebrate Minnesota’s rich choral heritage so evident in our state and private college programs.  Festival Coordinator Steven Albaugh assembled an outstanding steering committee and made plans to bring together five collegiate choirs on Saturday, November 14 at Benson Great Hall at Bethel University in St. Paul.  Auditioned choirs that were selected for this historic performance were the Minnesota State University, Mankato Concert Choir; Northwestern College Choir; Saint John’s University Men’s Chorus; University Singers, University of Minnesota Duluth; and the University of St. Thomas Chamber Singers.  The choirs sang individually and combined to form a massed choir under the guest direction of Craig Jessop, head of the Music Department at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and former conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  The highlight of the performance was the world premiere of a new choral work entitled look up… by Minnesota native composer Eric William Barnum. 

The next project on the immediate horizon is the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of ACDA of Minnesota.  A joint task force of ACDA-MN leadership and FMC Committee members led by Festival Coordinator Mary Kay Geston, are organizing a celebration worthy of the special significance of this milestone occasion.  A series of anniversary events and concert performances will be observed throughout the months of 2011 and 2012, with a grand finale weekend of special performances to be held on November 16-18, 2012

The tireless efforts and dedication of the endowment committee members has made it possible for ACDA of Minnesota to provide for the “vibrant future for exemplary choral music” that all choral professionals desire.  They are owed a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.

FMC Endowment Fund Committee Members

  • Carl H. Lipke, chair
  • Steven Albaugh
  • Bruce W. Becker, Executive Director
  • Steven O. Boehlke
  • Paul Brandvik
  • Barbara Geier
  • Mary Kay Geston
  • Janice Gilbertson
  • Lauretta Graetz
  • Thomas Hassig
  • Diana J. Leland, Director of Development
  • Howard Lerohl
  • Larry McCaghy
  • Mark Nelson
  • Robert L. Peterson
  • Linda M. Smith
  • Michael Wolsted

Emeritus Members

  • David Docter
  • Katherine G. Doepke
  • Richard Edstrom
  • A.B. Engen+
  • Geneva S. Eschweiler
  • Murrae N. Freng
  • Curtis E. Hansen
  • Charles Hellie
  • Wayne M. Kivell
  • Robert D. Mix
  • Ronald A. Nelson
  • Roger H. Tenney

The Advisory Board

  • Anton Armstrong
  • Philip Brunelle
  • Carol Barnett
  • Rene Clausen
  • Libby Larsen
  • Stephen Paulus
  • Jeffrey Van
  • Dale Warland