Susan (Maclay) Blackman estate leaves lasting impact at Luther College

August 24, 2020

A major gift from the estate of Regent Emerita Susan (Maclay) Blackman '64 will support multiple funds at Luther College including the Symphony Orchestra Vienna Residency Scholarship.

            Much of Susan's life was devoted to Luther College where she majored in modern foreign languages and played violin in the orchestra. At that time, the Vienna Residency program hadn't been established; in fact, Luther had no official study-abroad program in existence, prompting Susan to plan her own study-abroad summer experience using two national travel organizations. After graduating from Luther and completing master's and doctoral degrees in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, Susan established the Susan Maclay Blackman Fellowship for Study Abroad to help Luther students with financial need study in a developing region of the world - a mission that continues today.

Over the years, Susan, who served on Luther's Board of Regents for 14 years (1970 to 1984), and her husband, Paul Blackman, continued their generous support for this study-abroad fellowship fund as well as many other Luther scholarships, endowed funds and capital projects.

"Susan has always loved Luther, in a sense making the adult her," said Paul Blackman. "Part of what resonated so much with Susan were the faculty members, many of whom she kept in touch with. She appreciated both the quality of their teaching and their willingness to befriend students. She also made even more lifelong friends at Luther than in high school. It's just a nice place to live and learn."

After her death in February 2020, an estate gift of more than $500,000 was donated to multiple funds at Luther including the Career Connections Fund, the Susan Maclay Blackman Fellowship for Study Abroad fund, the Main Building Project, the Luther Fund and the Luther College Regent's Promise Scholarship; but the opportunity to fully fund the Vienna Residency Endowment was the most satisfying for Paul, and undoubtedly for the Luther faculty and student musicians who live, practice and perform in Vienna.

"The Vienna Residency is a J-term adventure that takes place every four years. It is a wonderful, beautiful, brilliant but expensive program," said Daniel Baldwin, director of orchestral activities and music department head. "When I speak with students and their families about Vienna, I usually say something like this: 'For virtually every student in the orchestra, the Vienna Residency is a life-altering, never-to-be-forgotten experience. And that's an understatement.'  No other undergraduate orchestra program in North America offers a comparable experience."

Unfortunately, Baldwin says they often see gifted students who do not audition for Symphony Orchestra because they know they can't afford to participate in the residency.  

"We believe strongly that the Vienna program should be available to all talented, committed student musicians, without regard for personal financial circumstances. The Vienna Endowment will provide scholarships to deserving students for whom participation in the program would otherwise be out-of-reach. Without question, Susan's gift represents a transformational moment in the fifty-year history of the Residency. This single gift will mean blessings for Luther orchestra students forever. Words are utterly inadequate," said Baldwin.

While never traveling with the Symphony Orchestra, Vienna holds very special meaning to Paul and his late wife, making this contribution a meaningful one.

"We both simply adore Vienna, at least partly because of all the music there. Susan traveled a lot, and I hardly at all, at least overseas. But we went together twice to Vienna since it was so special a city," he said.

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