Keys provide pianos

Gift purchases new pianos for YC music department

Millard and Ila Key were not monetarily wealthy people. They never made millions nor are there buildings named in their honor. But for over four decades, they gave generously to York College. 

“My parents were simple people. They didn’t have a lot, but they gave from their hearts,” says daughter Marcia Jacobson.

The Keys are both gone now (Millard passed in 1986 and Ila in 1999), however, their impact continues: a final gift from their estate recently blessed the music department at YC with four new electric pianos.

That is a fitting tribute, says Marcia, as her mother loved playing the piano and her parents loved the York College Concert Choir especially.

Dr. Clark Roush, professor of music and Endowed Chair for the Performing Arts, says that the pianos are a welcomed enhancement his program.

Video: Roush talks about gift of pianos

Clark Roush, Amy Fraser, and accompanist Kay Magner
Music faculty Dr. Clark Roush and Amy Fraser, with accompanist Kay Magner, pose with one of the four new pianos.

“These pianos are state-of-the-art!” says Roush. “They will never need tuning, and each one is equipped with a USB port, which will make practicing much more effective for our students. The music department is extremely grateful for the Key estate gift that made this possible. It will benefit our students and faculty for years.”

New pianos have been placed in Gurganus Hall, the Prayer Chapel, and in a classroom and a practice room in the music building. Roush plans to put up a plaque and dedicate space in the music building as the Millard and Ila Key Practice Room.

Helping Hands and Generous Hearts

The Keys moved to York from Mendota, Ill., in 1957. They moved specifically for the church in York, as Millard and Ila wanted their children, who were then middle school-aged, to have Christian peers and access to Christian education.

Ila and Millard Key
Ila and Millard Key

For 25+ years Millard was manager of Gamble’s department store. After Gamble's, he was head teller for the First National Bank in Waco, Neb. He also worked for 15+ years for the York News-Times. After retirement he worked part-time at Dale’s Electronics until his death. Ila worked at Swatty’s Superette and as secretary at Lincoln Elementary School before going to work for York College as secretary to the Director of Alumni Relations.  

The Keys gave regularly of their time and talents. Millard was on the board of trustees of York College for 20 years, including a decade as chairman of the board. Ila was a founding member of Helping Hands for York College, a ladies’ auxiliary group that held fund raisers for special projects for the students.

Millard and Ila opened their home to many college students who needed some TLC off campus and housed a few who couldn't afford to live in the dorms.

“My mother’s heart was as big as all outdoors,” says Marcia, remembering how her parents often took care of students who had financial problems, making sure that their tuition was paid so they could continue to attend York College. “They were givers and never expected anything in return.” Marcia recalled her mother collecting newspapers from others to sell to the recycling facility so that she could give the money to Helping Hands, and her father doing odd jobs on campus such as purchasing fabric and recovering chairs in the cafeteria.

After Millard passed away, Ila continued to show her love and support by greeting students with goodies as they walked to daily chapel, across the street from her house. “This was the highlight of her day towards the end years of her life,” says Marcia. “Every day she made sure she was out on the corner or at the end of her driveway at 10:20 to greet and feed!”

“Mother was also the official grandmother of Larsen Christian Academy,” says Marcia, noting that Ila took treats to the students for special occasions and was rewarded with great love and appreciation by all the kids.

The couple was involved at East Hill Church of Christ and Geneva Church of Christ, as well. Millard was treasurer for East Hill and the missions committee (Master’s Apprentice Program). He taught Bible class and led singing in Geneva. Ila taught Sunday school. They were always busy, working to improve the churches, the college, and the community, says Marcia.

Millard and Ila were married for 47 years. During that time, they were recognized several times by the college for their tireless efforts.

Playing to their strengths

The new pianos provided by this gift will further strengthen the choral program at YC, which is known for its excellence throughout Nebraska.

The 60+ member Concert Choir is the premier performing ensemble at YC. Members are required to meet a rigid rehearsal schedule and to maintain a minimum GPA. Each year they travel 3,000 – 4,000 miles representing the college. They have performed all across the United States, as well as Canada and Japan.

York College Concert Choir

The choir is comprised of all grade levels and majors and is highly recognized for their level of choral artistry.

The music department, as well as the choir, is under Dr. Roush’s direction. He is in his 27th year with York College.

In addition to the choir, there is a second, smaller choral ensemble, called the Celebration Singers. This group is led by Amy Fraser, assistant professor of music. The college currently offers degrees in vocal music instruction and vocal music performance, with classes taught by Roush, Fraser, and adjunct instructors Dr. Adrienne Dickson and Dr. Gayleen Nestor. Each year, a number of outstanding students graduate and move into classrooms of their own or continue on to graduate programs.

One such student is Nathan Towell, a vocal music education major from Ogallala, Nebraska, who graduated in May.

Nathan Towell performs with Celebration Singers
Nathan Towell, performing with the Celebration Singers in 2011.

This fall, he will start his career as the k-12 vocal music instructor for Cross County public schools. Towell says that the York College music department’s reputation and strong relationship with Cross County was partially responsible for his opportunity there.

The strength of the music program at YC is the diversity of the highly trained faculty, says Towell, as well as their accessibility. Each has a unique teaching style that he was able to analyze and borrow from, and all were willing to meet with him outside of class time to answer his questions.

In the fall of 2011, Towell was afforded the opportunity to rehearse and direct one song in the Concert Choir’s touring repertoire, an experience he said was “absolutely incredible.” That exposure, coupled with “micro-teaching” in YC classrooms and student teaching at Filmore Central in Geneva were excellent preparation for his career, he says.

“I don’t know if I could be any more prepared, though I don’t think you ever really feel prepared for your first teaching job until you begin,” says Towell. Thanks to his experiences at YC, he says he knows what to expect and understands more about himself as an educator.

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