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Generous, thoughtful, challenging: Arthur Zankel remembered

October 17, 2010

Generous, thoughtful, challenging: Arthur Zankel remembered

Arthur Zankel

"Here, truly, creative thought has been made material," declared Janet Lucas Whitman '57, chair of Skidmore's board, at the dedication of the Arthur Zankel Music Center, the centerpiece of a campus-wide salute to the successes of the "Creative Thought Bold Promise" campaign. A bequest of some $46 million from Skidmore parent and trustee Arthur Zankel helped fund the impressive new music facility and other programs.

Since opening in January, the Zankel Music Center has been a hub of activity, as home to the College's Department of Music and site of a wide array of musical offerings that have attracted large and appreciative audiences. At Saturday's gala dinner,nearly 500 donors and volunteers celebrated both the success of the campaign and paid tribute to the Skidmore trustee, parent, and friend who made so much possible.

The dedication of Zankel Music Center featured renowned pianist Emanuel Ax?a personal friend of Arthur Zankel. For a full house of invited guests in the Zankel's Ladd Concert Hall, Ax performed a solo sonata, a quintet with Skidmore faculty member Michael Emery and student Hanna Tonegawa '11 along with two members of Ensemble ACJW (visiting from Carnegie Hall), and a concerto with the Skidmore College Orchestra under the direction of Anthony Holland, associate professor of music.

In her remarks at intermission, Whitman recalled that her fellow trustee Zankel was "by turns, gracious and respectful, irreverent and challenging," and, she added, "warmly supportive. And always, always there was his absolute love for and devotion to his family." He was the father of Kenneth '82 and James '92, father-in-law of Pia Scala Zankel '92, and uncle of Harun '01, all of whom joined several other family members at the gala.

RibbonBefore the concert, a ribbon stretched across the Ladd Hall stage was ceremoniously cut by Martin Zankel, Arthur's brother, before he and Jimmy Zankel shared reflections.

Martin Zankel explained what influenced Arthur's philanthropy. "It was classic Arthur to recognize that those who did have the skill and the talent to perfect their art should be given the opportunity, encouragement and tools to do so?. For those who lacked the wherewithal, he became their wherewithal. His focus on education is certainly evident to all who knew him, and must certainly be plain to the philanthropic world by now."

Added Martin, "Arthur's gift was based on two essential elements. It was a thank you for the fine education that Skidmore gave to two of his boys, one daughter-in-law, prospective at the time of his death, and one nephew. And it was in recognition of Skidmore's potential to be great. We are keeping an eye on his legacy to see that his judgment is being confirmed. I am proud on behalf of the Zankel family to participate in this dedication."

At the podium Jimmy related how Skidmore had turned around his academic fortunes. When he earned As in his first semester, he said, "My father told me, 'Now you know the taste of achievement ... how it makes you feel to apply yourself and succeed.' And he was right."

Jimmy joked that the Zankel Music Center had actually opened in 1988: "at its former location, in the Kimball dormitory," where he played "ear-splitting ... bootlegs of the Grateful Dead." My father was not a champion of that Zankel Music Center. (Click here to see and hear a short video of his remarks.)

Turning serious, he said,"The first time I looked through this great glass wall, I was touched both by its esthetic and by a personal memory. I could see then?and I can still see?my father as he looked the first time he dropped me off at Skidmore. While I was excited to be here, the hard part was saying goodbye to my dad. I just wasn't ready. In his infinite humanity and sensitivity, he recognized that and he said, 'Let's take a walk, my boy'."

He continued, "We walked down the staircase of my dorm, across campus, to Broadway, and returned. It was probably a 30-minute walk and the entire time he had his arm around me. I didn't say a word because I couldn't. He did all the talking. And all he did was give me confidence, help me believe in myself, put me at ease, and put me in a position to be dropped off in the good hands of Skidmore."

Calling his father "a lovely man," he said, "We couldn't be more proud of this building. We couldn't be more proud of who he was. And nothing would make him happier than the education rippling forth from this building across campus, and people being able to come in and appreciate it." 

President Philip Glotzbach remarked that Arthur Zankel's devoted engagement with Skidmore "left an indelible mark on the College as it is today and shifted higher, in marvelous ways, our trajectory into the future." No sooner did Glotzbach begin applauding the Zankel family than the entire house rose for a standing ovation.

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