Loretta Lee Ver Valen, a retired soprano, voice teacher and supporter of the arts in Baltimore who began her opera career as a Peabody Conservatory student more than 70 years ago, has pledged $1 million to the university for its $17 million student arts center.
The 53,000-square-foot facility now under construction on the Homewood campus will house fine and performing arts spaces, including a music center that will be named in Ver Valen's honor. Other facilities include a dance studio, a 150-seat theater, a film and digital media center and other student activities areas. The center, to be completed in fall 2000, will have social gathering places for students, faculty and staff, and is envisioned as a link between the campus and the Charles Village neighborhood across Charles Street.
The arts center will serve principally students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences,/a> and the Whiting School of Engineering, increasing numbers of whom are enrolled in joint programs at the Peabody Conservatory. Peabody became affiliated with Johns Hopkins in 1977.
"We could not be more pleased with Mrs. Ver Valen's generosity in helping to fund this important facility, which will so greatly enrich our students' lives," President William R. Brody said.
Ver Valen, 95, has previously made significant gifts to Peabody, to Johns Hopkins Medicine and to other local institutions such as the Baltimore Opera Company, which she nourished in its infancy and for which she chaired the annual vocal competition for 30 years.
A native of New Castle, Pa., Loretta Lee graduated from Peabody in the 1920s and married fellow student Alfred Ver Valen, who became a successful real estate developer. She toured the East Coast as a member of the DeFeo and Columbia opera companies, performing such roles as Nedda in Pagliacci, Pamina in The Magic Flute and Mimi in La Boheme. She also taught for many years in Peabody's Preparatory Division.
Besides the Baltimore Opera Company, her civic involvements include the Walters Art Gallery, Grace United Methodist Church, the Three Arts Club of Homeland, the Baltimore Symphony Associates and the Baltimore Opera Guild.
Ver Valen is a founding member of the Opera Guild International, which honored her in 1998 with its award for outstanding service in the field of opera.