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NDSU renaming music school after receiving $2 million pledge from donor couple

FARGO - North Dakota State University is renaming its music school after Robert and Sheila Challey, in light of a $2.1 million pledge to the school's endowment campaign.

Benton Schmidt, Catherine Tlusty and Anna Tescher
Benton Schmidt, from left, a Bill Euren scholar at North Dakota State University in Fargo, accompanies Catherine Tlusty and Anna Tescher during opera rehearsal Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, in the NDSU Challey School of Music. Michael Vosburg/Forum News Service

FARGO – North Dakota State University is renaming its music school after Robert and Sheila Challey, in light of a $2.1 million pledge to the school’s endowment campaign.

The Challeys’ gift represents the bulk of the campaign, which began six months ago and now has a total of $3.15 million. Their gift was matched by $1 million from the state.

The endowment money will “be used for operations, for scholarships, for graduate assistantships, infrastructure, remodeling, equipment, virtually everything,” said John Miller, director of the NDSU Division of Performing Arts.

It also has the potential to expand current programming.

Miller said he hopes to launch a music education doctorate degree, build a solid program in strings, expand community outreach and possibly add a dance program to the theater department.


The campaign goal is $10 million over the next five years, he said.

This is not the first gift from the Challeys.

They also gave $2.15 million in 2006 for scholarships for undergraduate music majors, Miller said.

That amount pays for one full-tuition, four-year scholarship per year, as well as smaller awards.

An estimated 75 to 100 music majors receive some form of aid from the fund – more than half of the school’s 160 majors, Miller said.

Robert Challey has a long history with the School of Music.

He played the trombone while attending NDSU in the 1960s and was the drum major of the Gold Star marching band. His uncle, Bill Euren, directed the band from 1948 to 1968 and is the namesake for the full-tuition scholarship.

Miller described the Challeys as “warm, generous, outgoing and always wanting to help,” often calling him before he calls them.


Robert Challey said when Miller told them scholarships were an area where the school could use some help, he was excited to give.

“I’ve seen money-raising going on at our university for a long time, and it occurred to us that it’s much more fun to give money while you’re still alive and see what gets done with it,” he said with a laugh. 

Robert Challey was named to the NDSU Development Foundation board of trustees in 1981.

On occasion, the Challeys visit NDSU from their home in California, where Robert Challey is a real estate developer, and meet scholarship students such as sophomore Benton Schmidt.

Schmidt, 19, is a pianist and recipient of the Bill Euren Scholarship.

Raised in Wahpeton, he moved to Fargo six years ago and studied with NDSU piano professor Robert Groves while in high school.

Schmidt said it was “really important” for him to continue studying with Groves at NDSU, and he doesn’t know what he would have decided had he not received the scholarship. Music is a “chancy” profession to go into debt for, he said.

This recent gift from the Challeys also includes $100,000 for event programming, starting with a free concert by the Boston Brass in early October to celebrate the renaming.


The concert is at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at Festival Concert Hall.

The Boston Brass will stay on campus for a week offering seminars and lessons to students, Robert Challey said.


Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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