Robert Town’s quest to make great music at WSU continues posthumously

The late professor’s estate gift will support a prestigious organ professorship

Jody Horner, president of Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.
Robert Town, associate professor of organ at Wichita State until his retirement in 2006, with the Marcussen Organ.

During his lifetime, Robert Town played an invaluable role in orchestrating gifts to Wichita State that brought prestige and distinction to its College of Fine Arts.

    His relationship with Gladys Wiedemann led to a decision by the Wiedemann Foundation to purchase the Great Marcussen Organ and house it in the acoustically pristine concert hall named for the Wiedemanns. And his friendship with Rie Bloomfield resulted in a gift from the Sam and Rie Bloomfield Foundation to fund the Rie Bloomfield Organ Series, which draws some of the finest organists from around the world.

    Mr. Town’s impact and influence on Wichita State’s cultural fabric continue even in death with an estate gift that will support the Robert Town Faculty of Distinction Endowed Professorship in Organ, a chair currently held by Lynne Davis. Mr. Town died on Dec. 10 after a long illness.

    “Very few faculty are as engaged with our patrons as Mr. Town was,” said Russ Widener, chair of the WSU School of Music. “His relationships with Mrs. Wiedemann and Mrs. Bloomfield have given us one of the finest buildings on campus and one of the finest instruments of its kind in our country. The Rie Bloomfield Organ Series continues to give our community an outstanding concert series. And now Mr. Town has given of himself to leave an enduring legacy to Wichita State University and our community.”

    Mr. Town’s estate will provide about $475,000 to support the professorship as well as a maintenance fund for the Marcussen Organ, considered one of the most magnificent in the world.

    “Robert Town’s gift is an exceedingly generous one,” Davis said. “In an age where enrollment for study on this monumental instrument has been waning, its attraction to newer, younger generations of musicians is slowly on the rise. Making a permanent position for teaching the organ is a lasting part of his great legacy.”

    The organ professorship had been supported by Dennis and Ann Ross, longtime supporters of WSU’s organ program. But in honor of Mr. Town, the Rosses moved their support to the opera program, establishing the Ann and Dennis Ross Faculty of Distinction in Opera. The College of Fine Arts announced last month that renowned opera singer Alan Held will hold the chair. (See story, next page.)

“Mr. Town has given of himself to leave an eduring legacy at Wichita State University and our community.”

- Russ Widener

    In addition to being an associate professor of organ at Wichita State, Mr. Town was an accomplished concert recitalist, playing across the United States and Europe. At age 25, he won the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition, surpassing organists with 10 years greater experience. His recital venues included the Kennedy Center, St. Thomas Church in New York City and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

    He also was a master teacher. His students were successful in competitions across the United States and internationally. Two of his students received the Fulbright Award, the only students to do so in the history of the College of Fine Arts.

    Mr. Town was born in Waterman, Wis., on Oct. 31, 1937. He began teaching at Wichita State in 1965 and retired in 2006.

    “In his lifetime, Bob made a profound impact on the field of organ performance,” said James Rhatigan, a friend and WSU Foundation consultant. “But even more importantly, he did so in order that his students and their students and those of us who have the privilege of being the audience would have a glimpse of the beauty of Bob’s world, the beauty of music through the magnificent instrument, the organ.”


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