Dr. Thomas Lovitt of Kirkland finished the arrangements to create a music scholarship at the University of Kansas to honor his late wife of 58 years in what he feels was the nick of time.
Just days later, earlier this fall, the 81-year-old University of Washington professor emeritus was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I still don’t know how much longer I have to hang around,” he said earlier this week, exactly one year after the death of his wife, Polly Owen Lovitt. “It’s been tough this year, and I think a lot of times, why am I living? My whole purpose since her death is to honor her.”
Lovitt made a gift to the Kansas University Endowment of $60,500 to create the Polly Owen Lovitt Music Education and Choir Scholarship for KU music majors who participate in KU choirs. And since then he has wanted desperately to know the name of the first recipient.
Katherine Dick of Lawrence, Kan., was recently named the inaugural recipient and will receive the scholarship in spring 2012.
The Lovitts met and married as undergraduates studying music at Kansas University, which is in Lawrence. Polly earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from KU in 1952 and a master’s degree in education in 1966. Thomas earned three degrees from KU — a bachelor’s in music education in 1952, a master’s in music education in 1960 and a doctorate in education in 1966.
“She was a marvelous teacher, but not only that, she was a skilled musician, ” Lovitt said. “She played piano, the organ at church. She had a wonderful contralto voice.”
The couple moved to the Kirkland area in 1966 when Tom took a research and faculty job at the University of Washington, where he played an instrumental role in the UW’s Experimental Education Unit. Polly taught music at elementary and middle schools for the Shoreline School District. They also raised four children, and have six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
When Polly died late in 2010, Thomas discovered that her grandchildren didn’t know her quite as well as he wanted them to, and so set about writing the story of her life.
“I knew I had to honor her, and didn’t quite know how,” he explained. “I just kept discovering things she had written -- letters, journals, some very elegant scrapbooks. It became very clear that when she was at Kansas, what was important to her was singing in their chorale. It was a very elite chorale. So it became clear to me that the best way to honor her was setting up this scholarship.”
Both Kansas University and the scholarship’s first recipient are thrilled that he did.
“I’m very grateful and humbled to have been chosen for this scholarship,” Dick said in a KU press release. “Growing up here in Lawrence and around KU gave me such a privileged music education, especially in choral experiences. Receiving such a meaningful scholarship to keep pursuing what I love is a special thing. It will allow me to continue in my choral studies, something both Polly and I share a love for.”
Added Robert Walzel, dean of the university’s School of Music: “The School of Music is thrilled that Polly’s song will be continued so beautifully in this scholarship. Just as music was a large part of her life, so will Polly's legacy be for future generations of KU music students.”
The KU chorale that Polly sang with was a 16-member choir directed by nationally known musician Clayton Krehbiel. Tom played trumpet in the KU band while he attended the school, and later played in an Air Force band during the Korean War.
Lovitt, who in 2010 received the Edward L. Meyen Distinguished Lecturer award at KU, retired from the University of Washington in 2002. But he did not retire from being an educator, serving as a volunteer for many years at in the Kingsgate neighborhood, where his children went to school. He spent one day each week tutoring first-grade students in math, reading and writing.
Education, quite obviously, was and is a passion for both Tom and Polly Lovitt.
“It’s tremendously important,” he said, “and both of us have had such great respect for the University of Kansas.”
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