Developing Relationships: Beth Stoner’s Interlochen Legacy

  • Beth Stoner in the Roscoe O. Bonisteel Library. 

  • Beth Stoner was instrumental in generating support for numerous projects that will benefit Interlochen students for decades to come. 

  • Beth's Interlochen send-off was attended by former and current Interlochen Presidents, Ed Downing (Left) and Jeffrey Kimpton. 

When Beth Stoner’s alarm went off on April 6, 1992, she woke to the fishing forecast for Northern Michigan. She thought, “What have I done?”

It was her first day of work in Interlochen’s advancement office after nine years at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C., where she was used to waking to traffic reports.

“There were a lot of things that were quite different from an urban environment,” she remembers, laughing. At Interlochen, if she wanted to make a long distance phone call, she had to wait at the hotel to use the single trunk line out of campus.

Stoner was hired to work as a fundraiser as Interlochen launched its first-ever capital campaign. The physical plant was in dire need of a facelift. The corporate giving campaign, launched in 1984, was still in its infancy. The Annual Fund was not yet robust, and scholarships were an urgent priority. Planned giving, which includes estate provisions, had only been established in 1992. “The needs were pressing, but fundraising was not yet very well understood,” she says, “and I’d never done any fundraising when I set foot on campus.” At the NEA, she’d been on the other side of the desk, evaluating proposals for federal funding, not doing the asking. But she did have a great love of the place and a passion for its mission.

Stoner was a camper for four summers, from 1975-1978; she played clarinet, and went on to major in music and dance at Indiana University before going to work at the NEA. She was hoping to parlay that experience into a job in corporate giving, with a long-term goal of settling in the Midwest, where she’d grown up and where her parents still lived, when fellow camp alumna Gayle Shaw Hutton, then Interlochen’s director of alumni relations, recommended her for the job in advancement.

“I thought I’d work at Interlochen for a couple of years as a stepping stone to a job at Kellogg or Kresge,” she says. Instead, she stayed for more than two decades and helped to drive Interlochen’s transformation into a Center for the Arts.

During her tenure, Stoner was instrumental in securing the funding for landmark capital projects that changed the face of campus, including the Frohlich Piano & Percussion Building (1998), the Harvey Theatre (1998), The Writing House (2002), the John and Mary Melvin and Family Arts Commons (2003), the Bonisteel Library (2006), the DeRoy Center for Film Studies (2006), the Dow Center for Visual Arts (2008), the renovation of the Mallory-Towsley Center for Arts Leadership (2009), the Upton-Morley Pavilion (2011) and the John and Joan Herlitz Visual Arts Studios (2012), countless scholarships, and program endowments.

“Each of those projects was critical,” she says. “Technology and learning and the delivery of education have all changed so much over the years. It’s essential that Interlochen continue to improve upon the locations where education and performance take place.”

She’s especially proud of the library expansion. “It gave much more credit visually to the academic component of Interlochen. People know the arts education here is excellent, but this put an exclamation point on the academic rigor. It became a jewel of the campus.”

For Stoner, fundraising became about making the best arts education experience in the world available to as many talented young artists as possible. “That’s the heart of the mission here,” she says, and it’s what gets people excited about giving. “So many of the young people who come here need a place like Interlochen, a place that nurtures and challenges them to find out who they are, and to cement themselves as artists and individuals. It must be sustained.”

She emphasizes that while major gifts and new construction often attract the most attention, smaller gifts can still open new opportunities for the students. In one memorable instance, a donor sent a check, at the last minute, to cover costs for 15 students to travel to New York City to compete in the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival, one of the most important jazz events in the world for young musicians. “Fifteen young people got that experience because of a donor. The amount was not huge, like a building, but it was critical for the advancement of the jazz program at that particular point.”

The gifts and memories that are most dear to her are the small, personal gifts that she was privileged to see firsthand, as they helped individual students and families. “Even modest gifts of 100 dollars can make or break a child’s attendance,” she says, “and being able to connect those donors with families who needed their support was such a warm feeling.”

“It was all about the students for Beth,” says Nancy Meek, a board member who worked closely with her on the development committee. “She’d find out about a flute player who needed help pursuing a certain opportunity, and she’d find just the right donor to give that particular gift at that particular time. That takes a lot of patience in developing relationships.”

After more than two decades supporting Interlochen, Beth has begun a new chapter in her life. In late 2014, she married Bruce Wiegand and plans to spend time with her husband traveling and looking for new directions in life.  

“Beth was one of the most dedicated members of the staff," said President Jeffrey Kimpton. “She continuously sought out individuals who shared a passion for the arts and a desire to invest in developing the next generation of artistic leaders. The relationships she built translated into lasting support and an impact that can be seen and heard across campus - and the world. She will long be remembered.”