Unexpected $5 million donation resonates well with School of Music

Kari Petrie

The University’s School of Music announced Tuesday it received an estimated $5 million donation from the late Harvey Berneking. It is the largest gift the school has ever received from one person and the second largest single gift to a school of music at a U.S. public university.

“Obviously, I was shocked,” said Jeffrey Kimpton, director of the School of Music.

“I’ve been in higher education for 20 years; I’ve seen donations close to a million dollars – but this, it was just so unexpected,” said Rod Loeffler, assistant director of the school. “It wasn’t something that had been fostered over a long period of time.”

Kimpton said a quarter of the money will be used for instrument repair and the school’s operations. The rest will fund undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.

The school eventually expects to provide 20 undergraduate scholarships per year with the money. The portion earmarked for fellowships will be matched by the 21st Century Graduate Fellowship Fund.

“This will have a significant impact on a significant number of students,” Kimpton said.

The school hopes to have scholarships available as early as next year and Kimpton said the scholarships will be merit-based and competitive.

“It will have a dramatic effect to bring (scholarship) offers in line with other institutions,” Loeffler said.

Students in the School of Music were surprised to hear the news.

“I think it’s great,” said Megan Carlson, a second-year music education major. “It will bring more students into the school.”

Little is known of Berneking or his experience at the University. Kimpton said he was a very private man and Berneking’s lawyers and trustees asked to remain anonymous.

Born in Wheaton, Minn., in 1920, Berneking graduated from the School of Music in 1948 with a master’s degree in piano performance. Berneking spent most of his life in San Francisco where he invested in real estate and supported local music and art scenes.

Alec Thompson, the trustee who worked with the University, said Berneking described his time at the University as a life-changing experience and wanted to give others the same opportunity. He passed away at the age of 82 in May.

The gift raises the school’s endowment to more than $13 million.

Kari Petrie welcomes comments at [email protected]