Remembering JoAnn Harmon Arnold

For decades, Interlochen students revered the words, “Emerson Scholar.” Not only did this designation come with a full scholarship to Interlochen Arts Camp, it was synonymous with musical excellence. An Emerson Scholarship ensured that talented young musicians could have the opportunity to step into the lights of Kresge stage; to play alongside their musical peers and idols; and to have their eyes forever opened to new artistic possibilities.

The name JoAnn Harmon Arnold might not be as familiar to Interlochen alumni and supporters, but it should be -- because JoAnn worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the Emerson Scholarship and summer at Interlochen a reality for more than a thousand young musicians.  

In a career that spanned four decades with the Emerson Corporation, JoAnn started as a temporary secretary, and, propelled by her intelligence and warm personality, eventually became senior vice president. Among her many roles with the company, she led the charitable giving of the Emerson Corporation for 24 years, distributing hundreds of millions to organizations in the St. Louis area and beyond. It was this role that first brought JoAnn to Interlochen.

Chuck Knight, Emerson’s CEO at the time, introduced JoAnn to Interlochen and she immediately fell in love with the people and the place. “She was just totally taken by what she saw and heard the students doing here,” said Jeffrey Kimpton, president of Interlochen Center for the Arts. “Those first experiences created a strong and lasting connection between JoAnn and Interlochen. And when Chuck Knight retired, she carried the torch for us at Emerson.”

JoAnn’s passion for Interlochen was demonstrated by her actions. No distant advocate, she became deeply involved, serving as a trustee for nine years and on the Corporate Counsel for ten. She chaired several committees and did the invisible and sometimes thankless hard work of planning a brighter future for a large nonprofit institution.

JoAnn passed away on a vacation in Thailand in late January. In a moving eulogy to JoAnn at her memorial service, current Emerson CEO David Farr shared this observation about JoAnn: “She loved life. She loved people. She was a straight shooter. And she loved making a difference.”

Most have not heard of JoAnn Harmon Arnold. But for anyone who has experienced the music of the World Youth Symphony or was an Emerson Scholar in the last 25 years, JoAnn definitely made a difference.