Hesser Family Gift of Grand Piano a Tribute to Ferrum’s Methodist Founding

Weber Grand Piano

Weber Grand Piano

“We are here because of the vision of the Methodist Church and we feel that we are tied to Ferrum in that way. So many people have benefited from Ferrum and we are happy to further that,” says Elaine Lavinder, executive director of The Hermitage, the United Methodist Home in Roanoke, Virginia. The relationship between the Methodist Church and Ferrum College is a strong one, dating back to the origins of Ferrum, when it was founded by a group of Methodist women as a school for mountain children with no other access to education. Under the tenure of Ferrum President Jerry Boone, the connection that seemed to have weakened over time was re-energized. Dr. Boone was quoted as saying, “The Methodist Women formed this great place and I saw the opportunity to refocus on the Methodist mission of the school. Through our students, faculty, and staff, we have revived the true meaning of ‘Not Self, But Others.’”

The connection between Ferrum College and the Methodist Church was also the foundation for the relationship of James and Martha Hesser to Ferrum College. Hesser’s father, the late Reverend Dr. Claude Hesser, was a member of the Ferrum College Board of Trustees, and his sister, Elizabeth Hesser, was a longtime supporter of Ferrum College. Hesser was also a member of the Ferrum College Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1987, and was named as a Trustee Emeritus in 1993. While serving as a trustee, he formed a close relationship with Dr. Boone—so close, in fact, that Boone was listed as a contact when Hesser and his wife, Martha, moved to the Methodist Home in 1995. According to Lavinder, Hesser adjusted very well to life at the Hermitage and they became good friends. “He was the kindest, most genteel man,” she remembers. The Hessers deeded their home to the College when they moved to the Hermitage, and the proceeds of the sale formed the James M. and Martha E. Hesser Endowed Scholarship. But the relationship between the Hessers and Ferrum College did not end with his death in 2003.

Upon moving to the United Methodist Home, the Hessers took with them a Weber grand piano with genuine ivory keys dating back to the late 1800s. The piano carries a value of more than $15,000 and has a twin currently located at the Smithsonian Museum. The Hessers were very musically oriented and brought the piano to their new home so that it could be enjoyed by them as well as other residents and staff. He often spoke of his relationship with Ferrum College; Lavinder notes, “He so embraced Ferrum College, which provided educational opportunities for those who may not have gotten them otherwise.” This feeling prompted Hesser to specify that at such a time as the Hermitage was ready, the piano should be gifted to Ferrum College. “I know what would have made him happy and to give the piano to Ferrum is it,” says Lavinder. Although the piano needs a bit of restoration to bring it back to its original beauty, the gift brings a fitting close to the strong bond between the Methodist Church, Ferrum College, and the Hesser family, as well as to the Hesser family circle of giving.


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