Former Business Owner Leaves Legacy at Emporia State

The melodious sounds of a generous gift from the late Donna Allen of Topeka will ring throughout the Emporia State University music department for years to come.

Allen, who owned and operated the Donna Allen Keyboard Center at 17th and Fairlawn in Topeka, passed away in December 2006. Honoring a strong relationship with the Emporia State music department, Allen established a charitable remainder trust from the sale of a home in Topeka, leaving nearly $80,000 to provide pianos and piano equipment for Emporia State.

Marie Miller, chair of the music department, said the gift will provide acoustic pianos for student practice rooms and faculty studios; a grand piano for the instrumental rehearsal room; and humidity controls to preserve the instruments' wood and tuning.

And the gift isn't just for students of the piano. All music majors are required to take piano courses, and faculty members specializing in other musical instruments will often accompany their students on the piano, Miller said.

"That's the beauty of the whole gift," Miller said. "It's servicing the entire department, not just the piano area. She strongly believed in the entire program—that's what makes the gift so special for us."

Hurst Coffman, the Topeka attorney who handled Allen's estate, said that Allen always appreciated that "the Emporia State music department prided itself in having top quality equipment for students."

Allen moved to Topeka in 1965 and was highly involved in the community. She was particularly generous with music groups. Coffman, through his involvement in the Topeka Opera Society, recalls Allen loaning pianos to the society and opening her store after-hours for rehearsals.

"She was a retail person, she was in sales—not so much performance, but she loved music, she loved musicians, she loved to sell pianos," Coffman said.

Miller developed a strong friendship with Allen dating back to 1993, when Miller first explored piano retailers in the state. "She was the one that really responded and took an interest in our program," Miller said. "She was very supportive of what we were doing in music here, and she didn't hesitate to tell anyone that."

In a sense, Allen's gift completes the late 1990s renovation of Beach Music Hall. The gift fulfills a goal of the renovation—to build up the number of pianos for studios and practice rooms, Miller said. "This is what we wanted to do, but we didn't have the funding at that time."

The new equipment should be in place by the end of the spring semester, all thanks to Donna Allen. Miller had known there was a gift coming, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount—and very pleased to receive a gift from a dear friend. "She was such a close friend—that doesn't happen so often in a person's lifetime," Miller said.