Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Spring 2009 Vol. 104 No. 3 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Mary Ann Danenberg

Mary Ann Danenberg, Emerita Teacher of Pianoforte at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, widow of the 11th president of Oberlin College Emil Danenberg, and major benefactor of the program named in her husband’s honor, died April 24, 2008, at the age of 81.

Mary Ann earned her bachelor of music in piano performance in 1948 and her master of music degree in 1951, both from Oberlin College. Her marriage to then-Assistant Professor of Piano-forte Emil Danenberg took place in June 1951. Oberlin remained their home for the rest of their lives. Throughout the years in which her husband served Oberlin College, first as professor of pianoforte, then as dean of the Conservatory of Music, and finally as president of the College, Mary Ann continued to teach piano, privately and on an intermittent adjunct basis at the Conservatory.

In 1994 the College’s interdisciplinary Danenberg Oberlin-In-London Program, named for Emil and established shortly after his death, was in its 11th year. It had already occupied four different sets of shared premises, but that summer it had finally moved into pleasant and self-contained premises in Fitzroy Square, with an eight-year lease. Relief and celebration were felt by all who held the program dear, but the move had been costly. Mary Ann chose this moment to make a gift in her husband’s memory of a kind both unusual and rejuvenating to the spirit of creative experiment in the Danenberg Program.

First, she consulted with those close to the daily operation of the program about the immediate needs for the furnishing of the program’s new premises and the ongoing intellectual and social needs of the students. She then made a gift of $25,000 over a five-year period (later extended to $53,000 over 10 years). Mary Ann was by nature a practical and unostentatious person who lived simply, enjoyed modest luxuries with real appreciation, was passionate about music, had a quick but unsentimental and tough sympathy with students, a strong sense of humor, and an enormously kind heart. The terms of her gift precisely reflected these qualities. She stipulated that a piano and a television set should be purchased for the new premises, as well as plants and furniture for the outside areas and cushioned window seats for the main room.

Each semester an outside lecturer was to be brought in to give an Emil C. Danenberg Memorial Lecture for the students, and the entire group was to be taken to a classical concert (symphony, opera, ballet, or other performance). Other monies could be expended on further acquisitions for the library, better theater seating, equipment and furnishings, and access for students to research facilities and special opportunities. An annual report on the use of funds and needs for the future was to be made. Pragmatic, simple, warm.

As time went by and my reports went in, I began to look forward to the letters of encouragement and support that came back from Mary Ann, along with the annual funds. Her interest in the program was always mind-on and hands-off; she never once tried to influence or control beyond the original broad terms of her gift, but she acknowledged and urged forward every new use of her money. The messages of thanks she received from students, most of them in the form of notes on concert programs, were ones that I know she treasured.

Over the course of a decade, Mary Ann Danenberg quietly made a difference to the lives of a long succession of our students. Many students got their first taste of grand opera thanks to Mary Ann; the volunteer tutoring and other services our students sometimes undertook had their travel expenses covered by her; the little tape-recorders we lent students who were interviewing people were provided by Mary Ann; and so on, from the big event to the tiny subsidy.

Now, at her death, Mary Ann Danenberg’s hugely generous bequest to Oberlin College—endowing a large fund for the Danenberg Program—secures the continuation of many of these same activities and goals and ensures that whatever form Oberlin’s foreign study endeavour may take in the future it will be invigorated by the staunch, quiet, determined support of this modest woman. Characteristically, she requested that there be no formal service of commemoration for her. I hope and expect that the program Mary Ann loved will prove a worthy memorial to her and to her generosity to Oberlin College and its students.

Gwyneth Love directed the Danenberg Program from 1983 to 2006.