A Father Shows His Daughter the Way to Community and Philanthropy

  • Courtney Kaiser-Sandler (far left) poses with her students and Jon Bon Jovi after Arts Academy singer-songwriters students opened for a Bon Jovi concert.

  • Courtney Kaiser-Sandler (bottom right) with singer-songwriter students after their performance at Disneyland.

“In this undiscovered moment
Lift your head up above the crowd
We could shake this world
If you would only show us how
Your life is now.”
      “Your Life Is Now” by John Mellencamp

Gary Kaiser showed his daughter, Courtney Kaiser-Sandler (IAC 89-91, IAA 92-94), how to rise above the crowd long before she toured with Mr. Mellencamp or became a singer-songwriter instructor at Interlochen.

The summer before Courtney’s seventh grade, her father brought her to Interlochen. “My father told me many times about my reaction: ‘We arrived on campus and saw all the kids running around in knickers, playing instruments and singing. You said you wanted to be one of those people.’“

She came back the following summer and then for two more. She thought the adults understood her, “I felt I had found kids like me, passionate about singing and being artistic.”

The fall of her sophomore year in high school, she secretly scheduled an audition at Interlochen Arts Academy. Her dad was in Japan on a business trip, and she had been sick with strep throat. She wanted to audition anyway and told her mom that she was spending the night at a friend’s house. Instead, she drove seven hours to Interlochen, played an audition, and was accepted. “My dad would still say it was the best decision they ever made.”

Years later, Courtney would be in San Diego performing her first show with John Mellencamp.

“It was a surreal experience. We had a large crew helping to make the show happen. I was used to doing everything myself. One of the crew members, Jesse, is now my husband. There were rose petals falling from the ceiling and the energy in the arena exchanged from the audience was amazing. I couldn't believe it was happening."

She never thought she would return to Interlochen as a teacher and pioneer of the singer-songwriter program. But she did realize how important Interlochen was for her. She also remembers how proud her father was of her accepting the position.

“I realize it's not just about education or friendship—but about finding your community. That’s what my father helped me find.”

He also helped nurture her philanthropic values. Mr. Kaiser had been a consistent donor to Interlochen for many years. Courtney has also proudly donated to IPR, the new Music Building and the singer-songwriter program.

Her father died on April 23, 2013.

Courtney wanted to honor him on the anniversary of his death. She did so with a gift to the Interlochen Annual Fund.

Through her father’s influence, Courtney found Interlochen and her people. She also discovered joy in giving back to an institution she cares about deeply.

Now, it’s her turn to help young artists discover their moment, rise above the crowd and shake up the world. “I am proud to be a small part of the larger community that is Interlochen.”

Courtney’s gifts to Interlochen are part of the Family Campaign, which embraces and acknowledges the participation of our faculty, staff and campus volunteers in the CREATE AMAZING comprehensive fundraising campaign. More than 48% of employees and 94% of volunteers have made gifts to the Campaign since it began in 2012. For more stories about how donors are creating amazing at Interlochen, please visit www.createamazing.org.