Making giving a part of living

  • Michael Dermody in his office.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” - Winston Churchill

Michael Dermody (IAA 66-68) lives by Churchill’s words and has put them into practice, benefiting many organizations including Interlochen Center for the Arts.

As Chairman and CEO of Dermody Properties in Reno, Nevada, Michael came to know other executives in the area, including the President of Nevada Bell, Robert Blanz. In 1994, Mr. Blanz was on Interlochen’s Corporate Council, which consisted of various professionals volunteering their executive expertise to benefit Interlochen. Mr. Blanz learned Michael was an Interlochen Arts Academy alumnus, and invited him to join the Council.

A bit hesitant at first, Michael agreed. In a short time, he became the Council’s chair, although he downplays his leadership saying, “... it was akin to the Army. I didn’t know I was going to be the leader, everyone took one step back.”

Returning to Interlochen as a successful businessman and a father, he saw the wonder of his alma mater's educational value. He remembers it as one of the most humbling experiences he ever had, “... because first of all, I realized how naive I was as a student and unappreciative of the opportunity.” He found that Interlochen students, while very diverse in their backgrounds, were all driven by their artistic passion — and most were on scholarships. As Michael remembers it, “That hit me huge. I got so fired up that I wanted to import Interlochen’s model to my hometown of Reno.”

Michael had already been active in Reno by starting the Children’s Cabinet, a nationally recognized family resource center serving over 10,000 children and families annually. Additionally, he had founded the Dermody Properties Foundation, which is uniquely managed by company employees, and benefits thousands of families through hundreds of nonprofit organizations and causes.

It was natural, then, that Michael’s Interlochen experience would lead to the founding of Sage Ridge School in Reno. It has become Northern Nevada’s only non-sectarian preparatory school serving over 200 students with 100% of graduates attending four year colleges. Today that school — born out of Michael’s experience at Interlochen some 50 years ago — was ranked in 2015 as one of the nation’s top 50 smartest private high schools by Business Insider.

At Interlochen, Michael’s involvement also grew. After chairing the Corporate Council for four years, he became a Trustee, serving from 1998-2004. But as influential as Michael’s support of Interlochen was as a volunteer leader, he still wanted to do more.

Interlochen had for many years been important to his family in Grand Rapids. They were, “much more accomplished in the arts, and understood the Interlochen opportunity.” His cousin, Bill Hart (AS 53, 55; IAC St 59), was the first in the family to attend Interlochen and the catalyst for the family’s Interlochen relationship. Studying trumpet, he went on to tour with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He later taught math at Macomb Community College for 46 years and was named Michigan's "Professor of the Year" in 1989.

Wanting to honor Bill and support CREATE AMAZING: The Campaign for Interlochen, Michael established the William L. Hart Annual Trumpet Scholarship to award a generous scholarship to an Arts Academy student studying trumpet.

His cousin’s experience exemplifies what Michael sees as the real story of Interlochen: “Families sacrificing because they have confidence that their kids will excel.” He also noted that Interlochen often becomes an alternate family to many students, allowing them to succeed because of the support they find here.

Michael reflected on his time at Interlochen.

“To this day, it is very humbling ... I just wish when I was a student, I had the wisdom I have now ... What I saw at Interlochen was others helping others and it was inspirational.”

For Michael, the commitment to giving — as part of living — continues.

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