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The History of the KSO League

KSOL: The First 75 Years & Beyond

by: Michael Werden and Liz Walker

In 1930 Leta Snow, founder of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, organized the Women's Committee, predecessor of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League (KSOL). Community activist Blanche Hull was the first president.

During the 1940's, membership reached over 500 women. Cards even had to be shown to gain admittance to the meetings which were held in the newly built Civic Theatre. The original purpose of the Women's Committee had a different emphasis than that of the present day KSOL. In the beginning, the Women's Committee was primarily a social group; fund-raising was low key. The organization:

  • Sponsored and entertained guest artists
  • Studied the music of upcoming concerts
  • Cultivated potential supporters
  • Served food to the orchestra at rehearsals and concerts
  • Worked on the ticket campaigns
  • Raised funds for the orchestra.

Today KSOL's purpose, while maintaining the social benefits, is geared more towards fund-raising and educational activities with the stated purpose:

  • To serve as an auxiliary organization of the KSO,
  • To raise funds for the operating working budget of the KSO,
  • To promote the appreciation and understanding of symphonic music in the community.

The Junior Auxiliary was formed in 1932 with Betty Tyler Gilchrist as its first president. Its mission was to make an annual pledge to the KSO and look for ways to raise money—tea dances, bridge parties and style shows. The group also helped with advertising concerts by making posters of upcoming events and provided child care during concerts.

The Women's Committee changed its name to the Women's Symphony Association in 1951. They continued with the original activities while taking over the nursery duties from the Junior Auxiliary in the early 50's. One of the main fund-raisers at this time was a rummage sale. Thirty two years later in 1983 the Women's Symphony Association changed its name to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra League and began admitting men. Among the first to join were Barry Ross, C.H. Mullen, Ralph Mirkin, and Ronald Hill.

KSO League has a history of fund-raising activites:

Gilmore's Fashion Shows — Starting in 1964, this was the longest running project, continuing in some form until 1999. In the early years, Irving Gilmore underwrote guest speakers, some of whom included Marlo Thomas, Barbara Walters, Jane Powell, Eva Gabor and Letitia Baldrige. KSOL members modeled fashions from Gilmore Brothers Department Store, and women often joined the League just to be able to model.

Oktoberfest — Held at Kalamazoo College, this popular event ran from 1975 until 1986 when liability insurance caused it to be cost prohibitive.

Designers' Showhouse —The first Showhouse, a joint venture with the Art League, was held in 1982 at the Oaklands on the WMU campus. This project is a favorite of designers and the public alike.

Evening of Note — The first Evening of Note was held after hours at Crossroads Mall in 1982. Refreshments were served in the mall and models mingled throughout Hudson's Department Store. Over its lengthy history this signature event evolved into "the" social event: a black tie dinner dance and auction which kicked off the holiday season. Usually held in the Grand Ballroom at the Radisson Hotel, this event offered one-of-a-kind auction items and parties which made it a huge money-maker. In the mid-90's, in conjunction with the Evening, we held a raffle where the winner could choose either a new car or $20,000 cash. The theme changed annually, but the event was always an annual highlight.

Tour of Homes — Our first Homes Tour was in 1986. The community seemed to embrace these tours which we tried to hold in alternate years between Showhouses. The most popular tours were those at Gull Lake. In 1990, we received a certificate of excellence from the ASOL for Designers' Tablescapes, which was held in conjunction with the May 1989 Tour of Homes. We put a new twist to the Homes Tour in 2005 by focusing on loft living spaces in downtown Kalamazoo.

Many of these activities continue but we are always looking for new projects. Our newest example is:

Fantasy Fiddles — Delightful painted violins debuted in 2004. Twelve local artists painted actual violins in their own unique styles; KSOL then auctioned six and raffled six for a financially successful project.

Fund-raising has grown in importance for the league over the years. Prior to 1970, the League or Women's Association contribution did not have a separate line item in the KSO budget; today it does.

Records of monies given are sketchy for the early years. At one time the Symphony sold memberships, which were a way to contribute and purchase tickets. The League was always a sustaining member when this practice was in effect. The amount of the membership could be considered an additional contribution, so it is difficult to get exact numbers.

Over the years, KSOL has endowed three orchestra chairs:

1982 – Principal Cello
1991 – Principal Trumpet
1996 – Assistant Principal Bass