Couple Perpetuates Love of Classical Music Through Endowment

Gift from Ron and Helen Priest to the College of Music provides scholarships for students in orchestral performance.

During a visit to their home, Sin Young Kim, the first student recipient of their endowed scholarship, plays some select pieces for Ron and Helen Priest.


Although Ron and Helen Priest have been married 40 years, their union was forged long before they met through their individual passions for classical music.

Today, the East Lansing couple extends their appreciation for classical music with an endowed scholarship through the MSU College of Music. Established in 2013, the Ronald J. and Helen M. Priest Endowment in Support of Classical Music Performance is awarded once a year to help ease the financial pressures of students studying orchestral instruments. In addition to their gift of securities that launched their named scholarship, the Priests recently documented a generous bequest of through their estate plans, recognizing them in Michigan State University’s Theophilus C. Abbot Society.

“You hear of so many students who come to MSU and don’t have much money,” says Helen. “By giving them a little help, our hope is they can get an education and go on to do something with their music.”

Ron agrees, saying the endowment is a gift that makes a difference now and in the future.

“We just want to encourage young people to pursue classical music as a major,” Ron says. “We’re two people who really enjoy classical music, and one way to help ensure it’s perpetuated is to donate to the MSU College of Music.”

Providing a soundtrack

Ron and Helen both grew up on the west side of Detroit. Both went to public school, but didn’t meet until six or seven years after high school graduation. Coincidentally, the two west-siders had moved into the same apartment complex in Farmington. Ron had already earned his B.S. in entomology from MSU, and Helen had been working in advertising for General Motors. As they began talking, they realized they shared a common interest in the same type of music.

“My love of classical music comes from my father,” says Helen. “He always had big 78s with all the operas on them. I grew up listening to those on the victrola.”

Ron first listened to classical music as a 6-year-old when his uncle brought over a demonstration record with “The Grand Canyon Suite” by Ferde Grofé. Later, when his family got a television, he was enamored with broadcasts of classical performances, or shows with classically influenced soundtracks.

“I found a radio station in Windsor that played classical music,” he says. “I would listen to that after I got back from delivering my morning newspapers. I was about 12 I guess.”

After the two married, Helen made sure to secure tickets for the symphony in whatever town they resided: from Greater Detroit to Mt. Pleasant to East Lansing. In 1997, when Ron joined MSU to help curate the Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection—also known as the “insect museum,” Helen immediately secured tickets through the College of Music. She’s done so now every year, selecting packages that include a variety of classical and orchestral performances.

“One thing we notice when we go to symphony anywhere, you look across the audience and it’s a sea of white hair,” says Ron. “We really want to encourage younger people to study and to listen to classical music. That’s really the main reason we set up the endowment. We’re also both really impressed with the MSU College of Music.”

Putting music to words

Helen will tell you the biggest joy she gets from having established the scholarship is not simply the music; it’s the idea that she and Ron are helping someone achieve their dreams.

She feels that joy every time she pulls out the thank you letters she and Ron have received from scholarship recipients—letters that tell a story, that describe the thrill of attending MSU, and that say thank you for making it possible.

“Reading the letters makes me feel so wonderful,” says Helen. “They make me realize that maybe we are doing something to help people.”

“It makes us feel we are encouraging younger people in classical music,” says Ron.

In 2014, Helen and Ron received a letter from Sin Young Kim—the first student who received a scholarship through their endowment. In her letter, Sin Young described how the scholarship would help her continue her doctoral studies in violin performance at MSU.

“I have been studying violin since I was 5, and it was not easy because of my family’s financial situation,” wrote Sin Young of growing up as the daughter of a South Korean pastor. “It is such an honor that I can keep studying because of people who help me just like you.”

For Helen and Ron, those words of thanks were confirmed when Sin Young paid a personal visit to their East Lansing home, both to talk about her experience as a student and to play her violin.

“It was wonderful to meet her,” says Helen. “It can take your breath away to hear these students play.”

Dean of the College of Music James Forger commented that the impact of gifts like Ron and Helen’s can be immeasurable.

“Donors like Ron and Helen help make a tremendous difference in the lives of our students,” says Forger. “Because of their vision and generosity, we can recruit and support talented and worthy students enabling them to study applied music with world class faculty.”


By establishing an endowment and fully funding it with a cash gift in 2013, the Priests were able to see the impact of their contribution in short order when Sin Young was awarded as the first recipient of their scholarship the following year. To grow the endowment in the future, the Priests documented a planned gift in their estate planning. Through their bequest to the College of Music, the Priests have ensured that many more students like Sin Young will benefit from the Ronald J. and Helen M. Priest Endowment in Support of Classical Music Performance for years to come.

For information on how you can support the College of Music students and programs, or to learn how to establish a named endowment please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at surian@msu.edu or by calling 517-353-9872.


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