Tragedy and Triumph: A whirlwind journey for William Carey University

“If we can keep the vision alive, then I don’t care about impossible”
– Dr. Don Odom

 

HATTIESBURG, MS – Don Odom dreamed of the day his students and faculty at William Carey University would be playing Steinway pianos. He spent the better part of a year convincing anyone who would listen about pervasive benefits to the small private Christian school.

If the music department dean was building a castle in the air, Brian Murphy was his chief architect. Fresh from All-Steinway Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, the new assistant professor of music needed no coaxing. At Dr. Odom’s suggestion, he attended Steinway’s “Keys to Finding Funds” seminar in New York. “The print materials, sessions and tour of the Steinway factory were all spectacular, but experiencing all of this with colleagues from around the country was indescribable. Steinway is where great craft and great art meet. I was humbled yet so proud to be part of it,” he said.


 

But there was little progress at first. After dinner, on the porch of Dr. Odom’s house, Murphy asked: “Doc, is this All-Steinway thing even in the realm of possibility? Is there a point to continue pushing?” Dr. Odom paused, his eyes fixed to the floor, and said: “We will be swimming upstream, and yes, it is on the border of what is impossible, but we must keep it alive. If we can keep the vision alive, then I don’t care about impossible.” 

Murphy seized the project with renewed vigor. A few months later, a group of teachers purchased their first new piano. Dr. Odom’s words seemed to revitalize the Winters School of Music and Ministry, which ramped up fundraisers. Could William Carey become the first All-Steinway University in Mississippi?

January 21st – a dark day in 2008 that most Americans would rather forget as financial markets collapsed, took more ominous overtones in 2017 for the southeastern United States.

An early morning tornado swept through the entire campus with furious anger, devastating every building and wreaking $106 million worth of damage. The music department relocated to the University of Southern Mississippi and Hardy Street Baptist Church for the spring semester.

Shock reigned in the storm’s wake but gave way to the colossal rebuilding task at hand. Fortunately, three new Boston uprights ordered for the practice rooms arrived a week after the disaster. Murphy joined others who watched them being unloaded in front of the church. “Those pianos symbolized that we were very much alive, and our time away from campus only solidified our purpose in the All-Steinway initiative,” he said.

“Those pianos symbolized that we were very much alive, and our time away from campus only solidified our purpose in the All-Steinway initiative.”

“Actually, the tornado helped us achieve the All-Steinway objective,” said William Carey President Tommy King. “Many of our pianos were destroyed or damaged beyond repair and the proceeds from insurance provided some unexpected funds. The music faculty, especially Dean Odom, Brian Murphy, Kathy Vail and Howard Keever went beyond the call of duty to solicit donations. In addition, the university encouraged designated giving and diverted funds to assist the effort. The greatest thanks go to donors who came forward to make the project a success.


Dr. Lynne Houston, associate vice president for university advancement, coordinated fundraising activities for the All-Steinway campaign. “A local doctor Jaime Jimenez donated one of the Boston uprights which added excitement and momentum to the initiative. Administrators, faculty, staff, and loyal donors brought it full-circle,” she said.

By the fall 2017 trimester, nearly all of the Steinway grands were in place. A Model M and Model O were the only instruments needed to complete the new fleet of 20 Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos. One morning, Murphy opened an email from President King authorizing the final purchase. Students taking exams in classrooms were momentarily sidetracked by a shout of joy emanating from his office.

Later that day, Dr. Odom and his wife Sarah arrived to meet President King. Tears flowed without restraint and the moment transcended words. It would be the Dean’s last time on campus, as he had been out sick for quite a while. Murphy hugged him and told him as he was leaving, “Doc, we did it! He was very tired, but managed to smile, nod and pat me on the shoulder saying ‘Now let’s keep going.’ ” 

Don Odom passed away at the age of 61 on November 7th. 

A Model D concert grand piano in the recital hall is named in his honor. 

“Dr. Odom was an outstanding leader. He embraced the Carey ethos – established by Donald and Frances Winters – and sought to balance tradition with newer developments in music to attract students. He added numerous ensembles and groups that provided much-needed variety. Don will always have a treasured place in our hearts,” President King said.

Murphy especially thanked Christy and Chris Myers of Steinway Piano Gallery Spanish Fort. “They have become dear friends in this process, and Christy’s positive energy personally gave me encouragement to go on even in the difficult days. I feel that my friendship with them is a microcosm of Steinway’s relationship with musicians – we co-exist and continue to mutually improve,” he said.


 


Photos:
Row 1 — Left: Dr. Don Odom; Right: (From left) Sally Coveleskie, Steinway & Sons; WCU President Tommy King; Brian Murphy, assistant professor of music; Kathy Vail, associate professor of music; Sarah Odom, wife of the late Dr. Don Odom, seated; Dr. Howard Keever, acting chair, Department of Music; Steinway Artist Kadisha Onalbayeva and Christy Myers, Steinway Piano Gallery - Spanish Fort

Row 2 — Left: Sarah Odom, Right: Steinway Artist Kadisha Onalbayeva

Row 3 — Left: Architect‘s rendering of new entranceway planned at WCU. Right: Brian Murphy, assistant professor of music.

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