LAWRENCE — Just days after University of Kansas alumnus Thomas Lovitt made arrangements with KU Endowment to create a music scholarship in honor of his late wife, KU alumna Polly Owen Lovitt, he received a diagnosis nobody wants to hear — pancreatic cancer.
Lovitt made a $60,500 gift to create the Polly Owen Lovitt Music Education and Choir Scholarship for KU music majors who participate in KU choirs.
Since learning his diagnosis in August, Lovitt, of Kirkland, Wash., has been tying up loose ends. “When I think about things I’d like to do with the rest of my life — my bucket list — I’m really doing what I want to do,” he said. “It’s getting this scholarship set up and writing Polly’s story. I don’t have any trips I want to go on; and I don’t want to buy a new BMW. But it would be wonderful to know the name of the first person who receives this scholarship, to know who it is and a little bit about them, I’d love that.”
“The School of Music is thrilled that Polly’s song will be continued so beautifully in this scholarship,” said Robert Walzel, dean of the KU School of Music. “Just as music was a large part of her life, so will Polly's legacy be for future generations of KU music students.”
Katherine Dick, of Lawrence, is the inaugural recipient and will receive the scholarship in spring 2012. “I’m very grateful and humbled to have been chosen for this scholarship,” said Dick. “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. Thank you, Mr. Lovitt.”
Thomas and Polly met at KU and married as undergraduates. 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.
Polly grew up in Emporia. During her junior and senior years at KU, she sang in the KU Chorale, a 16-member choir directed by nationally known musician Clayton Krehbiel. She described this as one of her most meaningful experiences at KU.
After graduating from KU, Polly shared her contralto voice in prestigious choirs, including the Washington National Cathedral choir and the Kansas City Symphony Chorus. Later, as a middle-school music teacher, Polly turned her talents and energy to inspiring a love of music in her students. When needed, she even would develop student music shows from scratch. “Her programs were sensational,” said Lovitt. “Polly would write the scripts and the music, sew the costumes, all kinds of things.”
Lovitt said his wife was gifted at working with the middle-school age group, especially the girls. “I think a lot of them kind of saw her as a surrogate mother,” he said. Throughout her life, Polly encouraged women to find self-fulfillment, and she was particularly interested when women took up nontraditional careers, for instance, truck driving.
After Polly died in December 2010, Lovitt set out to preserve her legacy. He is writing a book about her life, using as a backdrop decades-worth of letters Polly wrote to her family and meticulous scrapbooks she compiled. He created the music scholarship to honor her in perpetuity at the university where they met.
The couple were married 58 years and have four children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In 2010, Tom Lovitt, a professor emeritus of special education at the University of Washington, received the Edward L. Meyen Distinguished Lecturer award at KU.
The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, a comprehensive campaign scheduled to have a public kickoff in April 2012.
KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.