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Mitchell K. Dwyer   |   Staff Writer
August 5, 2022
  • Mary Lynn Marrs and Ruth Small

In the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, Mary Lynn and Richard Marrs spent time on pursuits they were often too busy for: getting organized, going through storage, and sorting old family photos as they compiled their family’s history.

“On a Google search,” says Mary Lynn, “my late grandmother’s scholarship appeared. The Ruth Small Memorial Music Scholarship. It was like discovering buried treasure!”

Mary Lynn had a faint memory of conversation surrounding this scholarship, established after her grandmother’s death while Mary Lynn was in her first year of college. Her memories of visiting Ruth in Hawai‘i were a lot stronger.

“My father’s parents moved from the mainland to Maui and then O‘ahu in the 1960s where they lived until their passings. I was lucky, beginning as a small girl, to travel there often, for major holidays and summer vacations,” she says. “When I’m on the island, I feel at home because it is such a part of me.”

Years later, a guiding star

Ruth West Small taught music at UH Mānoa. Mary Lynn remembers her stories about accompanying great acts visiting Hawai‘i for performances. She says, “Music was a core part of my growing up, and my Tutu was a huge reason why. We sat side-by-side on her piano bench in her tiny, damp music studio overlooking the waters of Kailua Bay while she practiced, what seemed like endlessly!”

Richard and Mary Lynn had been considering re-planting their roots on O‘ahu. The discovery of Ruth’s scholarship spurred them to action when it was safer to travel from their California home.

“It felt like a guiding star for planning our retirement years,” says Mary Lynn. “After some research and information from the endowment team, we toured the campus and instantly felt a connection—or a reconnection to UH Mānoa’s music department. Seeing my grandmother’s name on the scholarship plaque wall, hearing the inspirational stories and performances, and feeling the overall warmth: the fine character of everyone we met helped us decide to invest in the futures of music students.”

Mary Lynn and Richard intended to bolster Ruth’s scholarship with added funds, but their campus visit prompted them to do a bit more.

Make the world beautifully united

Richard says, “The nostalgia we experienced and our desire to be a positive force in students’ lives led us to create a travel scholarship for music students.”

The Mary Lynn Ruth Small Marrs Endowed Student Travel Award in Music supports exceptional, motivated students pursuing degrees within the department of music, encouraging them to expand their musical experience and repertoire by traveling outside the state of Hawai‘i. Funds cover costs for participating in conferences, auditions, and musical performances.

Mary Lynn traveled to Europe while she was in high school, to play in her high school band for festivals and ceremonies in Austria and Germany. “It changed my life and expanded my way of thinking,” she says. “For the first time, I experienced multiple different cultures, languages and unfamiliar surroundings. I discovered and understood at a crucial time in my development that music was the universal language. We firmly believe that music makes the world a more beautiful place and has the power to unite us.”

Immense impact; immeasurable growth

UH Mānoa music department chair Laurence Paxton says the new scholarship’s impact will be immense. “Mary Lynn and Richard’s gift provides necessary travel funding for our most talented students, who are invited to prestigious summer music festivals,” he explains. “Our distance from Europe and the rest of America can otherwise be prohibitive. Now, students’ doors are open to much-needed immersion in the musical world outside our Hawai‘i home. The musical connections made with friends and respected artists will be immeasurable.”

Richard and Mary Lynn hope the award will inspire students to seek new experiences and venues for showcasing their talents. They wish to support them in their new adventures, so their talent and personal growth are not curtailed by monetary constraints.

Richard says, “This gift is a vote of confidence in the recipient’s future, along with some advice: go into the world and make it beautifully united through your musical talents. Grasp every opportunity to expand your thoughts and develop your musical creativity. They are linked, and travel is one vehicle for accomplishing this goal.”

“Travel wide—whether in your state or another continent,” adds Mary Lynn. “Explore and absorb, lean-in and learn, be open to new faces, places, sounds, and spaces, but always remember to share your musical gifts with your Hawai‘i home.”

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808 376-7800 or send us a message.