Music giant's fund aids St. John's

June 18, 2008|By Karen Shih | Karen Shih,SUN REPORTER

St. John's College has received $2.4 million from a charitable foundation named for a 1944 alumnus and music industry giant whose record label signed Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.

The donation announced last week by the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund will provide three need-based scholarships for students from Turkey or of Turkish descent, for perpetuity. It is one of the largest scholarships ever established at the Annapolis liberal arts college.

"He wanted to encourage education," said his widow, Mica Ertegun, president of the fund, "particularly for Turkish students who come to America."

Ertegun, who died in December 2006 at age 83, was a native of Istanbul who moved to the United States in 1934 when his father became ambassador to the United States.

He co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947, starting with blues acts, then helped bring on the British Invasion with artists such as the Rolling Stones and Cream. But despite his success, Ertegun never forgot his homeland.

"He always kept his ties to Turkey," Mica Ertegun said, especially toward the end of his life. The couple bought a house in Turkey and spent time there each summer.

"He had a lot of family and friends there," she said. "He decided that part of the country has to be helped."

With the new grant, Turkish students could receive up to $40,000 a year each, covering tuition, room and board, transportation, books and personal expenses.

St. John's Admissions Director John Christensen said he visits Turkey every other year. The college has close ties with three schools in Istanbul that prepare students to study in the United States, and those schools have sent many students to the college.

"After Sept. 11, we really saw a drop in both applicants and just the ability of international students to travel to the U.S. to study," said Barbara Goyette, vice president for advancement. "It'll be great to be able to offer this inducement."

About 6 percent of the college's 500 students are foreign, Christensen said. St. John's has offered some financial aid to Turkish students in the past, but the weak Turkish lira has made it difficult for students to attend.

"Our hope is that we can continue to build relationships with schools in Istanbul," Christensen said.

St. John's focuses on classic texts in various disciplines. Every student follows the same "Great Books" curriculum established in 1937, meaning Ertegun studied the same curriculum as students today.

He maintained connections with his alma mater by serving as a member of the college's board of visitors and governor in the 1970s. In 1994, he received an Award of Merit from the St. John's Alumni Association. He attended reunions and stayed in close touch with classmates, Mica Ertegun said.

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