The UW School of Music has been singing the praises of the Mead Witter Foundation since late 2015, when George Mead and his family announced that they would contribute a $25 million legacy gift. The donation helped to complete fundraising for the school’s newest facility: the Hamel Music Center. Anticipation at the newly renamed Mead Witter School of Music reached a new crescendo in 2016–17 as construction for the facility finally began.
The Witter and Mead families have a long connection to the University of Wisconsin. George Mead I 1894 met his wife, Ruth Witter 1896, on campus. Together they helped to build the Consolidated Water Power Company into a major power and papermaking enterprise. George Mead I served as a UW regent from 1928 to 1939, and the university granted him an honorary doctorate in 1950.
Construction begins on the School of Music’s new center.
Though George I’s grandson George Mead II is not a UW alumnus, he notes that the university has played a vital role in the state — and that education and music have always been important in the estimation of the Mead and Witter families.
“Though none of our family studied music at the UW, a fondness for music unites us,” says George Mead II, chair of the Mead Witter Foundation. “Everyone needs music. It is an inspiration point for all areas of creativity and learning. This is a way to recognize the connection we’ve enjoyed with the UW and to project that connection into the future.”
The Mead Witter gift offered a boost to the school’s plan to create the Hamel Music Center, which had begun with a $15 million pledge from George ’80 and Pamela Hamel in 2008. That was the lead gift for what was initially proposed as a $22 million practice and performance facility. With the Mead Witter Foundation gift, the School of Music was able to expand the project into a larger, $55.8 million structure.
Music administrators have expressed their desire for a new facility almost from the day the school moved into the Mosse Humanities Building in 1969. Early residents found it offered musicians only cramped, wet spaces in which to practice and perform — ones where sound bled from one room to another. The new building’s flexible spaces and improved acoustics will offer students and patrons a much better experience.
The Hamel Music Center will house a 670-seat Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall as well as a 315-seat Collins Recital Hall, named for Paul Collins ’58. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in November 2016, and substantive work began in spring 2017. The facility is expected to open in the fall of 2018 — to loud applause and a standing ovation.