By Rachel Stengel
The recent $3 million gift from Westminster alumna, Elsie Hillman of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation has generated excitement among faculty and students.
The donation supports the construction of a new building, the Hillman Performing Arts Center, on the Westminster campus. Fundraising is ongoing; the goal is to reach the $7.5 million cost of the building. Rider is anxious to begin construction after the building is approved by the Regional Planning Board, according to Robert L. Annis, dean and director of Westminster.
“As soon as we can open it, we can use it,” Annis said. “We have the large gift, but we still have some more money to raise. We can take it to the next step in terms of preparing the materials that a Planning Board requires. So that’ll take place over the next short period of time and then go to the Planning Board, hopefully by late spring or next summer at the latest.”
The new L-shaped building will be connected to the Playhouse and form a quadrangle with Taylor Hall. It will have classrooms and performance spaces. The center could be a potential outdoor performance area as well, Annis said.
Liz Folger, a junior music education major, said that she is excited about the new opportunities the building will provide to students and the potential positive impact on Westminster’s reputation.
“It will be absolutely amazing to have a real performance and rehearsal space of our own,” Folger said. “We currently use the Playhouse for these things, which is too small for all of the symphonic choir and pretty unimpressive as a performance space considering the reputation of Westminster. To have a home of our own to perform in will be amazing.”
The Hillman family has been a supporter of Westminster for many years. They have sponsored scholarships, endowed faculty chairs and improved the technology on campus. The $3 million donation is the largest contribution to date, according to Annis.
“It’s heartening to think that someone goes through the school, receives an education and then thinks so fondly of the institution that they want to give back to the institution, so it’s just terrific,” Annis said.
The Hillman family’s involvement on Westminster’s campus does not go unnoticed by students, according to Jonathan Lakeland, a senior piano performance major.
“This unbelievably generous gift came as a surprise, but was immediately met with great appreciation and gratitude from the entire Westminster community,” Lakeland said. “The Hillmans have long been avid supporters of Westminster. Every student knows their name —especially now.”
Folger agrees that the Hillmans are a presence at Westminster.
“I actually met Elsie Hillman in May on the Bell Choir tour and it was so inspiring to hear her talk about Westminster and its impact on her life,” Folger said.
Michael Zubert, a junior music education major, said that he appreciates the Hillman family’s continual devotion to Westminster.
“It is great to know that Westminster still has considerate benefactors who are invested in the musical development of future generations,” Zubert said.