A decades-long love of music shared by a former student and her mentor inspires the creation of the new series.
The story behind a new concert series at Rollins is the tale of how one former transfer student and her now 98-year-old Rollins mentor shared a love of organ music they heard in the campus chapel. It’s also a testament to the power of that instrument to reverberate across more than six decades and change lives.
Christopher Hulihan performs the inaugural guest organist in Knowles Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Scott Cook) The opening performance of the series starts at 4 p.m. on April 13 in the Knowles Memorial Chapel with one of the nation’s premier organists, Christopher Houlihan, as the inaugural guest musician.
Officially known as The Faith Emeny Conger ’54 Visiting Organist Concert Series in Honor of John Oliver Rich ’38, the title captures the student-mentor relationship at the heart of the new event. But the inspiration for it began more than 60 years ago when orange groves still encircled much of Winter Park and Orlando.
Faith Emeny Conger '54 in her student years at Rollins. (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives) Back in 1951, Faith Emeny Conger ’54 was a student looking for a new college in an era when transferring often came with negative connotations. She also was a young adult shaken by a family tragedy that made her wonder about going to college at all.
Yet that made her exactly the type of person that John Oliver Rich ’38, then dean of admissions, liked to bring to campus—a smart student in need of a new start. The outgoing man, whom friends called Jack, reached out to her family and suggested that although it was natural to want to keep the young woman close to home, it was now more important than ever for Faith to revive her education
“Jack was willing to take in all those people,” says Conger, whose recent gift endows the ongoing series in honor of her mentor who eased her transition to Rollins and gave guidance and support.
Jack Rich '38, former dean of admissions at Rollins College. (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives) Conger wanted to honor her mentor with the concert series because she never forgot his advice or his love of pipe organ music. Rich so loved the majestic sounds that he not only attended concerts but, according to his family, he often slipped into the chapel during weddings, sitting in the back to hear the renowned Ernest M. Skinner pipe organ in action.
“It’s a Stradivarius among organs,” says Philip Rich ’78 ’86MBA. “And it’s an important place to us. Our father has a very great love for Rollins, and at the center of that is the chapel. And at the heart of the chapel is the organ.” The family hopes to bring Jack, health permitting, to the concert.
During her student days, Conger found the setting becoming a central spot for her, too. The music was calming. “I would just go and sit in the chapel. It was serene and I could just think about good things.”
Faith Emeny Conger '54 in her student-teaching days. (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives) As she grew to know the Rich family better, she babysat the youngsters and became godmother to the oldest son, Jonathan. Years later, she learned that Rich had been looking out for her at Rollins. He had checked to make sure she was taking her meals, going to class, and making friends.
One of those friends turned out to be Fred Rogers ’51. The music major, who would be famous as TV’s Mister Rogers, was another student recruited by Rich. Conger recalls that one day, Rogers struck up a conversation with her. “He had heard about my loss and he said, ‘Will you come and listen to my recital?’ ”
She did and the two remained friends until Rogers died in 2003. Conger, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, also stayed in touch with the Rich family and knew of their ongoing concern for the organ. In the late 1990s, Rich led a drive to restore the instrument built in 1932. His three sons Jonathan, Philip, and Jeffrey ’80 grew up attending as many concerts as their dad could take them to. If they ever got bored, they played outside the chapel while their father listened inside.
Today, the former dean of admissions cannot always recall every detail from his nearly century of living, but he lit up when Jonathan mentioned Conger’s name, saying, “Faith has been like a daughter to me. There are many things I don’t remember at my age, but I just know I love her very much.”
Jack Rich '38 enjoys a front row seat at the visiting organ concert series established in his honor. (Photo by Scott Cook)
As for Conger, she will always recall that “big smile every time I appeared at his office doorway, no matter if I was complaining or not. He was very caring about the people he admitted.”
Along with the music they heard together long ago, Conger can still hear Rich’s confident, friendly voice greeting her at that office door, booming out in that way he had, “Faith, hello!”