Norton Center Salutes: The Stafford Memorial Concert Fund

For over 30 years, The Stafford Memorial Concert Fund has been supporting Norton Center music concerts of the highest caliber, allowing patrons from across the bluegrass to enjoy outstanding classical works from virtuosic performers.

The Fund honors the memory of Jack Stafford, former plant manager of the Danville Whirlpool Facility.  Jack and his wife Joan moved to Danville in 1979, just as their five children were leaving the nest.   In November of 1980 Mr. Stafford passed away unexpectedly, but Mrs. Stafford decided to stay in the area.  “Our house was paid for and I just enjoyed being here,” she says.  By this point, she was teaching piano and trumpet at Centre College and enjoyed attending the free chamber music series that was in existence in the Weisiger Theatre at that time.

Before his death, Mr. Stafford asked the Whirlpool Facility to make a donation to Centre College and although the Board hesitated at first, only offering part of the requested amount, after his death they agreed to contribute the entire sum in memorial to him.  The principal money was invested and the College offered Mrs. Stafford the opportunity to choose one need from several areas.   “One was a bus and another was a chamber music series, which offered several free concerts to the public each year.  I thought, ‘a bus will wear out, but the concerts will keep going.’ So I opted for the series and helped choose who would perform in them.   When the new director of the Norton Center [George Foreman] took over and began charging for the series so that the Norton Center could bring in nationally recognized artists, they then let me designate which concert would be the Stafford Memorial Concert,” Mrs. Stafford explains.  “At first I was disappointed that the concerts would no longer be free, but later I realized it was a good decision to begin charging and bringing in these incredible artists.”

Mrs. Stafford has remained busy while living in Danville: she is the organist at her church, Centenary United Methodist; she belongs to Sigma Alpha Iota – an international music fraternity for women; she has membership in the Kentucky Guild of Organists; and she participates in the National Music Teacher’s Association.  She credits her proximity to the Norton Center for allowing her to keep up with her friends, while also making new ones.  Her former college roommate has two grown children that have performed at the Center, the first in the Philadelphia Orchestra and the second in The Church Basement Ladies.  “It’s been very enjoyable living in this smaller community that has the culture of the college and I’m very encouraged by what the Norton Center brings to the area,” she says. “There have been many people that came to Danville with Whirlpool who were, and still are, assets to the community. Most of them have stayed here and retired.  I’ve made such good friends here.”

With a background in organ and piano, it’s no surprise that Mrs. Stafford is a fan of classic, traditional music.  “I’m not so much into the loud contemporary music,” she says, laughing. “I have to wear my earplugs.”  She and her husband made a point to impart a love of music to their children as well.  “Art is visual, oral, creative, stimulating and pacifying,” she explains. “It can also be great stress relief. I taught all of my children piano and then they went on to learn other instruments.  Now I’ve got a doctor, a nurse, a schoolteacher, a graduate music therapist, and a businessman.  And they all learned to play an instrument or two.”

“Not only has Joan been a steady presence at every concert of classical music in the Norton Center and a dedicated church musician, but she has played a part in the music education and piano teaching of many Danville children,” said Barbara Hall, Centre College’s Stodghill Professor of Music and a good friend to Mrs. Stafford. “I remember one particular time when the city was going to clamp down on teachers who taught music privately in their homes.  Joan led the fight to maintain this historic and important avenue for exposing children to the rich tradition of active music study.”

In addition to this season’s Lise de la Salle concert, Mrs. Stafford has previously selected two other piano recitals to benefit from The Annual Stafford Memorial Concert Fund in the recent past: Orion Weiss in the 2007-08 Series and pianist Olga Kern in the 2008-09 Series.

Categories: Norton Center Salutes

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