Funding music's future

Posted at 10:13 AM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 11:24:22-05

When Ron and Helen Priest first met more than 40 years ago, they could’ve bonded over any number of things: their similar upbringings on the west side of Detroit, their careers, their feelings about the apartment building they both happened to be living in at the time. Instead, it was their common interest in classical music. They’ve been married 40 years now, and have changed jobs and hometowns many times, but their love for classical music has remained the same.

In fact, tickets for the symphony were a necessity wherever they happened to be living. When Ron’s work brought them to East Lansing in 1987, Helen immediately sought tickets to College of Music performances, and has continued to buy ticket packages for a variety of classical and orchestral performances every year.

Their admiration for the College of Music — and their desire to get young people more interested in studying and enjoying classical music — led them to create the Ronald J. and Helen M. Priest Endowment in Support of Classical Music Performance in 2013. Their gift to the College of Music, combined with a gift to support another cause they’re quite passionate about — TV and radio programming at WKAR — earned them recognition as members of MSU’s Theophilus C. Abbot Society.

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

If the thank-you letters Ron and Helen have received from scholarship recipients are any indication, the future of classical music is in good hands. Sin Young Kim, the first student to receive a scholarship through their endowment in 2014, is a doctoral student in violin performance. It would have been difficult for her to continue her studies without the Priests’ help.

“I have been studying violin since I was five, and it was not easy because of my family’s financial situation,” she wrote in a thank-you letter to the Priests. “It is such an honor that I can keep studying because of people who help me, just like you.”

Sin Young expressed her thanks to the Priests in person, too, paying a visit to their home, where she shared stories about her experience as a student, and played a concert just for them on her violin.

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

To learn more about making a gift to the College of Music, contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development at or call (517) 353-9872.