The breadth of Kent Blossom and its amazing success in projecting the profile of Kent State University and its College of Arts were impressively in evidence two weeks ago Saturday.

That’s when Kent Blossom threw itself a 50th birthday party, a fund-raising banquet for its many supporters who included, among others, two former University presidents, Michael Schwartz and Carol Cartwright, at the Student Center Ballroom.

For the occasion, Kent Blossom marshaled all three of its divisions. They demonstrated how they have enriched the university experience for students who aspire to careers in the fine arts.

During the evening, Tony Award-winning actress, Alice Ripley, a Kent State alumna and veteran of Porthouse Theater, performed songs from her Broadway shows, some of them with a group of current musical theater students, thrilled to be sharing the stage with her.

Philip Pearlstein, an important American painter who has participated in the Blossom Art Intensives whereby noteworthy artists work with students who aspire to careers in painting and sculpture, told of his life in the arts. Pearlstein’s paintings and copies thereof decorated the entrance to the Ballroom.

David Shifrin, one of America’s great clarinetists who teaches at Yale and has held chairs in the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, performed accompanied by Kent State pianist, Donna Lee. He was a student in the Blossom Music Festival at Kent State in 1970. He also performed with the advanced student-based Efferus String Quartet, one of whose members participated in the Kent Blossom Music Festival during summer.

"For the most part, Kent Blossom continues to achieve what its founders envisioned," Richard Worthing said. A retired dean of the College of Fine and Professional Arts, who early in his career directed the Kent Blossom Music Festival, Worthing remains a devoted friend of the university. He avidly follows the Kent Blossom Music Festival, the instrumental program that, he said, "has become recognized internationally for its effectiveness in developing advanced student musicians into professionals."

Kent Blossom Music Festival alumni, he notes, have held more than 20 chairs in the Cleveland Orchestra. "At one point," he said, "they held five of the major chairs in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra."

Kent Blossom, Worthing said, originated in the 1960s. The Cleveland Musical Arts Association, the governing body of the Cleveland Orchestra, at the urging of conductor, George Szell and his assistant, Louis Lane, who wanted a summer venue to provide year-round employment for orchestra musicians, built Blossom Music Center on 800 acres adjacent to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Seeking to embellish it with an academic mission, the orchestra in 1968 formed a collaboration with Kent State by which members could teach advanced young musicians who would come to Kent State during the summer for intensive tutorials and performance experience.

The vision of the academic mission, Worthing said, quickly broadened to include theater. With gifts from Cyril and Roberta Porthouse and Gerald and Victoria Read, the Porthouse music theater complex was built. Kent State’s programming of professional level musical theater at Porthouse has become popular summer entertainment for thousands in Ohio and beyond.

Kent Blossom also embraced the visual arts, Worthing said. Kent State’s School of Art by the 1960s, had already developed into one of the best in Ohio. The late Harold Kitner, who taught in the program, initiated a series of art intensives whereby students in the field could interact with established artists who would encourage and critique and give lectures open to the public. Pearstein was one of those established artists who helped out. So was Alex Katz, an artist who lives in Maine and by now must in his early 90s. The Cleveland Art Museum two years ago hosted a wonderful exhibit of Katz’s works. The Eells galleries on the Blossom Music Center grounds exhibit works of area artists.At the Blossom birthday party two weeks ago, Provost Todd Diacon reminded everyone that gifts from the public remain essential to the program’s well-being.

In our follow-up get-together, Worthing acknowledged public gifts remain important despite Blossom having boosted Kent State’s profile so effectively. He saluted donors and families who host the instrumental musicians for the five weeks of their Kent stay.

(I may miss somebody, but currently I believe, Larry and Peggy Shaffer, Dave and Sherry Joy, Dale Leppo, Bob and Susan Conrad, Roe Green and Jim Williams are among those setting the bar for so many of us in the community who support the Kent Blossom Music Festival and Porthouse Theater.)

Worthing praised the dedication of Cleveland Orchestra members, several of them Blossom alumni, who, having become teachers and mentors, go above and beyond. "I know they put in a lot more hours than those for which they are paid," he said.

Kent State University, he said, continues to provide, "essential operational and fiscal support as successive administrations recognize the Festival’s importance to the University’s reputation."

David E. Dix is a former publisher of the Record-Courier.