October 4, 2017
Richard and Marilyn Vitek, both graduates from Albion College’s Class of 1956, have shared their lives together for more than 60 years. Part of that sharing has come in the form of years-long generosity to their alma mater.
Now, the couple is celebrating the timelessness and universality of music through their largest gift to the College. The Viteks have formally made a significant gift commitment—the biggest by an individual or couple in Albion College’s 182-year history—that will result in a new building on campus. With plans for it to be located near the corner of Ingham and Cass streets, just south of Goodrich Chapel, the new structure officially will be called the Richard and Marilyn Vitek Center for Musical Arts.
The gift will cover half of the anticipated costs of the project. Architects for program planning are currently being evaluated, and groundbreaking could begin as early as fall 2018.
“The Vitek Center will transform the study and performance of music at Albion College for years to come,” said Albion College President Mauri Ditzler. “The musical arts are an integral part of the liberal arts, and this building, which will sit along our pathway to downtown, will be an ideal setting for musical offerings by our students and faculty as well as from artists locally and regionally. This will be a huge step forward for this college, thanks to Richard and Marilyn’s most generous gift.”
Music Department faculty have been researching recent similar projects at both small colleges and large universities as they determine the most ideal array of features and specifications for the new building. “Our music professors are finding inspiration and ideas in many ways and in many places,” said Provost Marc Roy. “The process has been enlightening, a bit revealing and, admittedly, rather fun.”
Richard Vitek and Marilyn Young met during their freshman year on campus and were married two weeks after their graduation. Richard, whose degree is in chemistry, pursued research after graduate school, including at the Atomic Energy Commission and with the Advanced Research Project Agency for the space program. He later started the first of several entrepreneurial businesses he would own, including Hartland, Wisconsin-based Fotodyne, which was the first company dedicated to the manufacture and marketing of laboratory and scientific instruments for the separation, visualization and analysis of DNA. He rounded out his life’s work by studying piano, and by enjoying classical music and opera.
Marilyn, whose degree is in home economics, grew up in a musical family, singing in choirs and in church and regularly attending operas through high school. She fondly recalls “Mr. Dave”—legendary Albion professor David Strickler—and is excited about the thought of the Music Department relocating from its current home on the basement level of Goodrich.
“To have a music building, and a special place that they can call their home, should make for a much more interesting adventure to a lot of young people,” Marilyn said. “I think we struck the right chord.”
For Kody Smith, ’20, who plays baritone saxophone for the Albion College Jazz Band and British Eighth Marching Band, as well as percussion for the College Orchestra, the project hits home.
“Music, and the Music Department as a whole, has been so important to me because that’s where my family is,” says Smith, an undeclared major who is a member of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service, the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management and the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program. “People like me coming together and creating something that’s more than us, something that’s so beautiful and so important to us—it just transcends everything else we do.”
“Music, indirectly, impacts everything else I do here at Albion,” said Sunny Kim, ’20, an accomplished violinist who is majoring in music and business and minoring in French. “I think a new music facility will be such a huge improvement and will be so beneficial to not just the Music Department, but to the College as a whole.”
The Viteks, who have given consistently to the College over many years, have increased the tempo of their gifts of late. More than a decade ago they funded the technology teaching auditorium (Norris 102) in the Science Complex. They had also created endowed scholarships in chemistry and biology. Since 2015, the couple’s gifts have renovated and reimagined a dormant greenhouse in Olin Hall into what is now the Young Greenhouse and Marilyn Young Vitek Atrium Study Lounge; launched a new endowment benefiting the College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity; and purchased equipment and supplies for the Chemistry, Biology and Physics departments. They have also given a pair of original 1970s works from American landscape painter Robert William Wood to the Art and Art History Department.
“We were encouraged to keep giving more,” said Richard Vitek, adding about the direction toward music, “The more we thought about it, we said, ‘You know, it makes sense, because music is the language of the universe.’ The choice that the campus helped us with was a good one.
“The music building is a special gift that we thought would be, really, a needed thing for the campus and for the students,” he said. “It’s not for us; it’s for them.”