Susan and Patrick Stevens have been part of the Walker|West community since its earliest days. Their son Brian was a student and volunteer at Walker|West as a teen who needed a break from playing sports. Jennifer married into the Stevens family, and learned about Walker|West her first date with Brian. Their children (Elliott, Graham and Patrick) are now students of Walker|West having done recitals and camps with us. It’s safe to say, the Stevens are here to stay!
We checked in with the Stevens family, just as they pledged a $250,000 lead gift for the Walker|West Capital Campaign (which is currently underway). The Stevens feel a responsibility to invest in this music learning community, because they believe in Walker|West and want to honor what Susan calls, a heartconnection to our mission.
When Susan first heard Grant West’s music wafting out of Dayton’s, he happened to play a favorite song of her parents – this struck her right away. She needed to know more about the “2 guys teaching piano” on Selby Ave.
When Susan learned about how Rev. Walker & Grant West were revered community members, she could feel that Walker|West was a special place.
“Music is the language of the soul,” this is an adage Brian remembers seeing and hearing in his time as a student of Rev. Walker (and later Grant West). And while Brian is moved by our mission, he adds that “it’s the feeling inside the building that Rev. Walker & Grant West and so many others bring,” that makes the difference moving the mission forward. A mission and vision that has always been centered on impact for our neighbors, those near and far.
Susan’s consulting group signed on to help Walker|West create our first business plan in the early ‘90s. A plan that raised over $400,000 and helped move Walker|West to its next chapter at that time. As Walker|West is entering its next 30 years, the Stevens see this moment as a time to deepen their commitment as a family.
The large gift is unique among their charitable giving. It’s a stretch. But one they make enthusiastically, to support how our work is expanding and changing under leadership of Braxton Haulcy, our current Executive Director.
Walker|West’s teaching style is different from other places, Brian and Jenn agree. “It’s one thing to play and read music, they note, Walker|West offers something even deeper than that.” Jenn is a music educator, she studied music theory in college. As she recalls it, though she learned a lot the way she was taught theory didn’t live in her fingers or notes the way it does for Walker|West students. The sense of self expression, growth of confidence, interplay of chords and notes–not simply reading or doing pieces by rote, are things that stand out for Jenn and Brian.
Jenn notes the first time she came to a recital to see one of her children play. Recalling how our way of encouragement and support were unmatched. Students are often accompanied by teachers, which lifts the notes they know how to play, and turns it into something big! Family and friends sing along, calming any jitters that students may have. For Jen, this is a notable and welcome contrast from how she remembers recitals.
Music connects us, from East Saint Louis, to Wyoming, to Denver, to Mendota Heights, to Nebraska where Susan’s family is from. In uncertain times, music can communicate things we struggle to find words to process. Whether it’s our family singing show tunes when gathered together, or protest music carrying us through times of unrest – music comforts, heals, soothes and unites.
Along with healing, music sparks joy! We asked the Stevens family what they were most excited about for Walker|West and they had this to say:
Jenn: The idea for this gift started when we wanted to host a friendraiser to get all of our friends to experience what Walker|West can offer. Because of COVID we had to change those plans, and when the new building came up, a specific need
became more apparent. We’re excited to support the new building. And as an educator, I’m excited about the expansion of programming, especially early childhood music education!
Brian: The new building will really allow Walker|West to evolve and be more flexible in how it evolves. Music is changing. How people want to learn music is changing, like with digital music production. It’s such a great time for the academy. We wanted to
get in early, and we hope that others will join to help carry on the work of Walker|West into the next 50 years.
To make a major gift, or to support our capital campaign, contact Braxton Haulcy, Executive Director
For more about the Power of Music to Heal our Community Campaign visit: walkerwest.org/capital-campaign