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Assistant Vice President, Principal Gifts
UI Foundation News
500 Levitt Center for University Advancement
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Phone: (319) 335-3305 or (800) 648-6973

Release: April 27, 2000

Marshalltown woman's $1 million bequest supports UI opera program

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A $1 million gift from the estate of Martha Ellen Tye, a Marshalltown, Iowa, philanthropist, will raise the curtain on new opportunities for students and faculty who are studying, performing and teaching opera at the University of Iowa. Tye was a major supporter of the performing arts programs at the UI, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the Marshalltown public schools. Before her death in May 1998, Tye worked with University of Iowa Foundation staff to establish a bequest for the UI opera program.

"This is the largest and most significant gift in the history of the UI School of Music," said David Nelson, director of the UI School of Music. He announced the gift in conjunction with the UI Opera Theater's opening performance of "Hansel and Gretel," to take place on Friday, April 28. "I visited with Martha Ellen Tye numerous times over the years, and I was always impressed with her enthusiasm for the arts and desire to share her love of opera. This gift will help ensure that opera continues to be a prominent force in our region's flourishing cultural scene." The gift will support faculty, production, and other costs associated with the UI opera program.

"Hansel and Gretel," Engelbert Humperdinck's popular fairy tale opera, appeals to people of all ages and will be performed at Hancher Auditorium April 28 and 30. UI students in music, theater and dance perform in the annual opera, which is open to the public. In addition, students from Willowwind School in Iowa City will perform in a children's chorus in the story.

Martha Ellen Tye was a Marshalltown, Iowa, native who traveled extensively with her parents, Jasper Henry Fisher and Florence Baughman Fisher, and developed a life-long passion for the arts. In 1955 she married Joe B. Tye, a 1923 Iowa Law School graduate. Over the years, the Tyes contributed more than $2.3 million to the UI Foundation in support of the College of Law, Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music, the Museum of Natural History, the UI Museum of Art and other areas of the university.

After Joe Tye's death in 1974, his wife established a UI law student scholarship in his memory. Martha Ellen Tye was active in numerous civic organizations and was the first woman member of the Marshalltown Rotary Club. A member of the UI Foundation Board of Directors, she also served on the Iowa Law School Foundation board, was a University of Northern Iowa trustee and was involved with Marshalltown Community College. She was also a patron of the Chicago Lyric Opera, the New York Metropolitan Opera and Old Creamery Theater in Garrison, Iowa.

"This gift is a wonderful way to start my career at the University of Iowa and to build momentum for opera," said Sally Stunkel, associate professor in the School of Music, who joined the faculty last fall. Her position as director of the UI Opera Theater will receive support from the Tye gift. Professor Stunkel, who has directed more than 70 stage productions during her career, chose the fairy tale as her first full-scale opera production at Iowa. She has served on the faculties at the University of the Pacific, the University of Tennessee and the St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

"Opera is part of our curriculum," said Stunkel. "The performance of 'Hansel and Gretel' represents the culmination of months of intensive study and rehearsal for students, faculty, and technical staff. It's a familiar story with magical creatures and beautiful music."

"Hansel and Gretel" will give UI students the opportunity to perform in a production of professional caliber. William LaRue Jones will conduct the UI Symphony Orchestra; set design is by Margaret Wenk of the UI Performing Arts Production Unit; and production manager David Thayer, emeritus professor in the UI Department of Theatre, will supervise the highly skilled staff who build the scenery and create costumes for this and all UI stage productions.

David Nelson said the annual production of an opera is a creative, logistical and financial challenge. "Martha Ellen Tye's generosity will inspire even more collaboration among dozens of our outstanding performing arts students, faculty and staff," said Nelson.

The University of Iowa Foundation will manage the Martha Ellen Tye Opera Program Fund, providing a perpetual and expanding resource to support the activities of students and faculty in their study and performance of opera.

The University of Iowa Foundation is the preferred channel for private contributions to all areas of the university. Foundation staff work with alumni and friends to generate funds for scholarships, professorships, facilities improvements, research funds and other UI initiatives.