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This 1982 photo was taken following the unveiling
ceremony of a portrait of Jessie Kneisel,
professor emerita of modern languages, on Cominsky Promenade.
Pictured with Kneisel, from left to right, are Karl Kneisel, George McWhorter,
Peter Berg (portrait artist), and former Eastman Director Robert Freeman.
A LASTING INFLUENCE
Alumnus George McWhorter's generosity keeps the spirit of his beloved teacher alive at Eastman
EASTMAN NOTES: DEVELOPMENT ~ Summer 1999
"Jessie Kneisel was the finest teacher I've ever had . . . and I've had the best in several disciplines," alumnus George T. McWhorter (BM '57) proudly states. "She encouraged me to specialize in German lieder singing. She had a way of drawing out your thoughts on any subject, making you think for yourself, resolve your own philosophy of life, and work with a purpose. This is probably the greatest influence a good teacher can have on a student."
Kneisel, who taught German and German diction at Eastman from 1936 until her retirement in 1976 (and who also served as adviser to women until 1945), clearly influenced McWhorter's life -- so much, in fact, that in 1982, while she was still living, he established an annual German lieder competition at the School in her name. He continues to fund the competition to honor her lifelong affinity for German lieder, and to give back some of the "life-molding gifts" she had given him and many other Eastman students.
"With Jessie, there was almost no division between student and teacher," recalled McWhorter. "We were friends and spent many golden hours in her home listening to German lieder, having insightful discussions, and topping it off with a splendid home-cooked meal. We kept in touch over the years . . . as she did with most of her students after they graduated, feeling that her encouragement would help them over some rough spots in their careers."
McWhorter himself has led as successful and distinguished career. After graduating from Eastman, he attended the University of Michigan and received his master's degree in voice. He sang professionally with the New York City Center Opera Company, but eventually had to retire from singing for two years because of troubles with his vocal chords. During that time, he went back to Michigan and received a second master's degree -- this time in library science.
By the time he graduated, his voice had returned, so he had to choose between pursuing an operatic career in New York or one in library science. His dilemma soon was resolved, however, when he was hired as curator of rare books at the University of Louisville and as a soloist with the Kentucky Opera Association, making his debut in Janacek's Jenufa. Performances continued with appearances on different university concert series in Louisville and throughout the Southern states.
Throughout his career, McWhorter has published five books; created a voice scholarship at Eastman in memory of the subject of one of his books, Jonah Kelley, a World War II infantryman who was killed in action and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; and established the world's largest collection of writings by Edgar Rice Burroughs, housed at the Ekstrom Library of the University of Louisville. He did this in memory of his mother, who taught him how to read using books written by the author of the Tarzan series. Now the full-time curator of this collection and editor of The Burroughs Bulletin, McWhorter has been featured in two documentaries produced by cable television networks A&E (Arts & Entertainment) and AMC (American Movie Classics). For the past 27 years, he also has been soloist at Louisville's First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Today -- 17 years after the first Jessie Kneisel Competition in German Lieder -- McWhorter's tribute to his beloved teacher, who died in 1992 at age 88, has become one of the most prestigious vocal competitions at Eastman. Each spring, students compete for prizes in both voice and piano accompanying, and the opportunity to perform in the Jessie Kneisel Memorial Concert. McWhorter makes a special point to return to Rochester to serve as one of the competition judges.
"I'm always impressed by the level of stunned training and talent," he said. "I'm also most grateful to Eastman for the training I received there and for the extraordinary personalities, Jessie in particular, that have influenced my life.
Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection:
The Hidden Jungle of Ekstrom
Louisville Cardinal ~ Sept 25, 2012
The Tarzan collection at Ekstrom contains the largest amount of memorabilia
surrounding the Edgar Rice Burroughs character.
Deep in the heart of the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library lies a hidden treasure: the world’s largest institutional collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ writings and memorabilia of his most well-known literary creation, Tarzan. The collection was donated by George McWhorter, who also serves as the collection’s curator. McWhorter started his Borroughs and Tarzan collection, which now includes over 200,000 items in 1936. He donated the collection to the library in 1976. It was dedicated to his mother, Nell Dismukes McWhorter, who taught him to read at the age of five.
“[Burroughs] had a great sense of humor that appealed to me. His philosophy and one of his techniques were cliffhangers, so you always wanted to read more,” McWhorter said.
When I first learned about this massive Tarzan collection in the library, I imagined a jungle, and this was not far from the truth. In the display room, there were bright, colorful Tarzan posters hanging on the walls and countless Tarzan figurines, ornaments, comics and even a pencil sharpener in the glass display cases.
“The collection was absolutely amazing. It had everything from Sunday comics from 1931 to foreign movies about Tarzan,” Keyonna McKinsey, bioengineering major, age 19, expressed when asked about her thoughts on the collection.
Not only does the collection include Burroughs collector’s items, but there are also Burroughs’ personal items such as membership cards, including War Correspondent US Pacific Fleet, United Press Correspondent and Hollywood Country Club. Another fascinating and amazing item in the display room was a personal letter from President Ronald Reagan. “The most amazing thing in my opinion is the letter written by Borroughs sent to President Reagan, and the fact that Reagan had even responded was pretty astounding in itself,” McKinsey said.
At the end of the display room was another door that led into the main exhibit. It overflows with all sorts of items such as Sunday funnies, movie scripts, badges from Dum-Dum conventions hosted by the Burroughs Bibliophiles and photographs of all 22 official Tarzan actors. “I never knew that there were so many movies, TV shows and books of Tarzan. I didn’t know it was so popular,” Steven Schweinhart, computer engineering and computer science major, age 19 said.
At the end of the room, there was even a Martian chess-set, an extension of the traditional game that is based on Burroughs’ science fiction novels. Also, wedged between the bookshelves were miniature representations of Tarzan’s birthplace and Burroughs private library. Nothing Burroughs-related escaped the collection. Not even Star Trek items that drew Burroughs references were excluded.
And of course the Burroughs Collection would not be a collection without the books. There were countless volumes including all 30 first-edition Tarzan books, reprints, foreign editions and braille copies. Although the collection is sizable already, the collection will continue to grow as the lasting impression of Burroughs’ Tarzan develops. “There will always be more adaptions of Tarzan,” McWhorter stated.
The massive collection is truly inspiring. Anyone who visits the collection would be encouraged to read early literacy classics. “I want them to need to read for themselves.” McWhorter said. “If it’s through Burroughs, then that’s great, but it’s okay even if it’s Peter Rabbit to get them to learn to read.”
The collection’s most outstanding feature was not its impressive number of books or items, though. It was the love and dedication McWhorter has put into the collection over the decades.
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