Leona's Legacy: DeArmond Scholarships Make Students' Dreams Come True

We were saddened to hear the news that our great supporter and alumna Leona DeArmond (BS '51, vocal performance) passed away on Tuesday, September 5 at 88 years of age.

"She was the kindest person," said Brad Foley, Dean of the School of Music & Dance.

"She really loved the University of Oregon."

Leona's memorial service will be held at 1:00 p.m. Friday, September 15, 2017 at Perl/Siskiyou Funeral Home, 2100 Siskiyou Blvd., Medford.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the U of O Foundation, School of Music Piano Fund, 1225 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, or another charity of your choice.

In Leona's memory, we wanted to share this story with you about how the endowed scholarships that she and her husband Robert DeArmond created are making Oregon students' musical dreams come true.

Generations of musicians and music educators will be forever grateful for their generous gifts.

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For junior Kenneth Ross, music has always had the power to make him smile.

“When I’m happy and playing trombone, it’s really bad for my trombone playing, but my corners rise and I just start smiling and I can’t stop,” said Ross.

“It’s contagious. I normally catch it from someone else. And so then, me and my buddies are smiling together, playing good music together, and really just enjoying the present,” he said.

Ross said his love of music had helped him through some difficult times. His mother, Carolyn, died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition while he was finishing up high school in Sherwood on the outskirts of Portland.

He had hoped to attend the University of Oregon, the same place his mother had earned her degree. But without her income, Ross worried about whether his father, a career law enforcement officer with the Multnomah Sheriff’s Department who was getting ready to retire, would be able to afford to send him to college. Then he found out he’d been awarded a Robert and Leona DeArmond Scholarship.

“To me, this scholarship was kind of a way so that I wasn’t just relying on my Dad, because I love my Dad more than anyone else in the world and always will,” Ross said.

“[It] was a sign of independence, in that even though I lost the person who was taking care of me, I can find a way to take care of myself.”

That’s why Robert and Leona DeArmond established an endowed scholarship at the School of Music & Dance – to share the joy of music with the next generation of students, who might otherwise miss out on the college experience altogether.

“I had such a wonderful experience and voice teacher at the School of Music,” said Leona DeArmond.

“And, of course, that’s where I met Bob. We want to give future students the same opportunities we had to work hard, learn, and succeed after college.”

This year, the DeArmonds pledged to substantially increase the size of their gift, so that incoming students will continue to receive financial help in their names forever.

Sierra Sparrow, a music education major from Grants Pass, said being chosen for a DeArmond Scholarship had made a life-changing difference for her.

“Without this scholarship, I would not be able to attend the University of Oregon – I wouldn’t have the means to,” said Sparrow.

“I wouldn’t have the money to pay for my rent, for my food, transportation, clothing. It just wouldn’t be possible.”

The financial boost gave Sparrow the freedom to focus on her studies, she said.

“It’s very hard to hold a job while being a music major, because when you’re not studying you’re practicing, when you’re not practicing you’re studying,” Sparrow said.

“I do work at the library, which is 10 hours a week, but that’s by no means enough to pay for rent, so [this scholarship] has given me the opportunity to go to the school of my dreams.”

Sparrow fell in love with music as a first grader when a middle school band visited her classroom and played a version of "The Pink Panther."

“It was just so loud and they were having so much fun, and it just looked like something that I really wanted to be a part of,” she said.

She said she hoped to inspire the next generation of aspiring young musicians after she graduates and becomes a teacher.

“I just hope to make a lot of kids fall in love with music like I did,” Sparrow said.

Another DeArmond scholarship recipient, vocal performance major Zari Crier, said attending the School of Music and Dance was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“I have wanted to come to this school since I was in the seventh grade at Walker Middle School in Salem, Oregon, and actually being here is one of the most wonderful experiences of my life so far,” said Crier.

Jazz studies major Cameron Whitehead said music had always been his favorite subject in school.

“I wanted to study jazz mainly because I did it so much in high school and it’s been the number one thing that keeps me going all the time,” Whitehead said.

“I’m always happy to play it. I’m always happy to play with other people. I don’t see myself doing anything else.”

The free-form, improvisational nature of jazz gave Whitehead an outlet to fully express his emotions.

“When I’m playing my music, it allows me to vent how I’m feeling in a way that words cannot, and that is just amazing to me,” Whitehead said.

“If you’ve had a bad day, you can reflect that in your playing. Or if you’ve had a really happy day, then you can really articulate passages and you can really show everybody in the audience…how you’ve been feeling.”

Whitehead auditioned on bass for the jazz program at the School of Music and Dance, and was thrilled when he learned he’d been accepted. But the Eugene-native said he wasn’t sure how his family would be able to pay for his college education.

“We didn’t make enough money to afford college, and we didn’t know how we were going to do it,” Whitehead said.

“When I got that scholarship, it gave me a second chance. It gave me an opportunity.”

That’s why Whitehead said he’d always be grateful to Robert and Leona DeArmond for giving the financial gift that allowed him to pursue his musical passions and earn a degree.

“They’re impacting the lives of students like me who can’t afford college, but want to pursue something that is just out of reach to them,” he said.

“It really just makes my day to see that people care about the lives and the futures of the students in my generation.”