Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Historic piano donated to Morgridge College of Education

In the late 1880s, many of Colorado’s early pioneers — including artists, civic leaders, educators, clergy and members of the Navajo and Ute Nation tribes — were invited to the Durango, Colo., home of Senator Charles Newman and his wife, Marian Chestnut Newman, for a slice of civility in the rugged Southwestern mountain town. The guests would always end up at the Newmans’ Decker Brothers piano.

A journey by narrow gauge railway and wagon brought the piano from its New York manufacturer to Colorado years ago. The instrument recently took another journey — to the University of Denver’s Katherine A. Ruffatto Hall — earlier this fall. It was a gift to the Morgridge College of Education from Shirley Ann Sheets (BA education ’56) and her brother, Robert Newman Sheets (BA social science ’61), in honor of their parents, Shirley deSpain Sheets (BA music ’30) and her husband, Newman Lloyd Sheets.

The piano was dedicated during a celebration Nov. 9. More than 100 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the event, which featured Native American music and a blessing by Calvin Standing Bear, a Lakota, and James Torres, a Chiracahua Apache.

“My sister and I inherited this historic treasure and — having both graduated from the College of Education — wanted to honor our parents, especially our mother, who was a professional opera singer and music teacher,” Robert Sheets says of the gift. “Much of the inspiration we all received in our lives began at the University of Denver, and we wanted to give back by giving the gift of music to DU and the students of the Morgridge College of Education. This instrument will continue the song of learning and beauty in all our lives.”

The Nov. 9 event was part of the Alumni Signature Events series, sponsored by the Morgridge Alumni Board. The event featured a question-and-answer session with Morgridge College Dean Gregory Anderson.

Alumni Signature Events are a series of informal presentations and interviews conducted by the alumni board. They are meant to create a dialogue with distinguished DU alumni, faculty and constituents who help connect the academic and professional worlds for the benefit of students, faculty, staff and alumni.  

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