Dr. Sherryl Byrd
Vice President for Student Affairs, Austin Peay State University
Granddaughter of the late Helen Trotter Midkiff Capra, who taught in Belmont’s School of Music for 31 years
How did you first become aware of/involved with Belmont University?
I’ve been involved with Belmont almost since the day I was born! My grandmother, who I named Mimi, was a faculty member when Belmont College enrolled only a few hundred students. As the first grandchild and only granddaughter, I spent many weekends and time during the summer with her. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she would bring me to campus with her, and I would entertain myself in her studio office while she taught or gave lessons. I also spent a good deal of time with her as she practiced the organ in Massey Auditorium. She had me sit on the bench to turn pages of the music for her. She was the faculty advisor to the Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for women, and I remember how beautiful and sophisticated they seemed. She often played for the weddings of students, and I sometimes accompanied her. She was one of those early faculty members that helped establish Belmont’s reputation for excellence in music. Our family connection to Belmont became even stronger when my mother, Barbara Lee Midkiff Willoughby, enrolled and earned a degree in Social Work in 1985 at the age of 44. It was very special that my grandmother played the organ at my mother’s graduation. She was so proud of her only child.
Why do you want to support Belmont?
Belmont was such a huge part of my grandmother’s life and mine as well growing up. She devoted over 30 years to Belmont and loved being a teacher. It meant so much to her that I can’t think of a better way to honor her contributions to the institution and her influence on students. In going through boxes in her attic, I found so much related to Belmont from over the years. I believe she kept programs from every commencement, awards ceremony and other events she played for on campus as well as from the senior recitals of all her organ students. It was also very important to her that Belmont was a Christian institution. Her faith was central to everything she did. She believed that her musical ability was a gift to be used for the glory of God. Through her teaching and mentoring, she equipped others to do the same.
Why are you supporting scholarships specifically?
Having worked in higher education over the past 34 years, I’ve seen the cost of college escalate to the point that it has become a significant barrier for many. A scholarship provides a tangible benefit directly to a student. The Helen Trotter Midkiff Capra School of Music Endowed Scholarship supports a junior, senior or graduate student pursuing a major in a classical music area, in good academic standing but also with demonstrated financial need. In 1939, [my grandmother] had to leave Hendrix College in Arkansas after only two years because her family could not afford for her to remain. She returned to college years later as an adult student after moving to Nashville and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from George Peabody College for Teachers.
Is there a specific experience you’ve had with Belmont that inspired this gift?
It is more from a lifetime of exposure rather than one specific experience. I believe that my work in higher education was directly influenced by her and by the time I spent at Belmont. It was such a blessing that a job change brought me back to middle Tennessee and closer to both her and my parents. I was able to spend a great deal more time with her in the last years of her life. Many of her students kept in touch over the years and sent very sweet cards and letters. Some former students attended her funeral and one of her favorites, Jeff Binford, played the organ for the service. It was wonderful to hear them reminisce and tell stories about her. She was petite, stylish and gracious but virtually never on time! She was quite a character in addition to being extremely talented. I knew then I wanted to do something to permanently recognize her commitment to the institution and provide a way she could continue to impact students.
Why would you encourage others to give to Belmont?
There is no better return on investment than a college degree. It can forever alter the course of someone’s life. The options and opportunities provided are immense. I believe those of us who have been so blessed and benefited from our education have a responsibility to make the path more accessible for others. An endowed scholarship is not a one-time donation but rather a gift that continues into perpetuity. Even long after I’m gone, it will be awarded annually in her memory. It makes me very happy to know that her legacy and love for Belmont will be recognized in this way.