PARIS – Pearl Starbird has spent the greater part of a century seeking to enhance young people’s appreciation of art and music. On Thursday, she got some touching indications of how her philanthropy will ensure her dreams are carried on.
Two years ago, Pearl Starbird, who turns 98 in September, gave away $715,000 to establish a scholarship to support students in the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris and the Lake Region High School in Naples who want to study music or art, but needed a little financial help to get there.
On Thursday, she saw the results of her generosity when a dozen or so scholarship recipients joined her for a reception and showed her how grateful they were.
Dressed smartly in a flowing skirt accentuated by bright flowers and a red shirt bordered by a string of pearls around her neck and large pearls on her ears, Starbird showed enthusiasm and pleasure as each of the scholarship recipients displayed their creative endeavors during a reception Thursday at the Market Square Health Center in Paris.
The students’ talents ranged from ceramics to drawing, playing the flute and oboe.
“It’s difficult. I’ve been there,” said Starbird as one recipient showed her charcoal drawings that took up to 30 hours each to complete.
A former art teacher and cellist, Starbird taught art in Boston public schools throughout her career. She received her bachelor’s degree from the Boston Museum of Art School and her master’s degree from Boston University where she wrote her thesis on costume design.
Starbird came to Maine as a child summering with her family in a camp her aunt purchased in 1909 on Keoka Lake in Waterford. She retired to the town in the mid-1990s and moved into Market Square Health Center several years ago.
Waterford resident Keith Willoughby, who along with his wife is a close friend of Starbird’s and a member of the Maine Community Foundation advisory committee through which the scholarship is administered, said the money is handed out annually in scholarships that ranged from about $1,000 to as much as $20,000. To date, about $300,000 has been awarded.
“We feel this is something that could have a permanent importance on Oxford County and the world,” he said.
SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman, who attended the reception, called the students and their works “treasures” and said Starbird’s generosity would not have come to fruition for Oxford County students without Willoughby’s help.
The students, many of whom keep in touch with their benefactor throughout the school year, said their dreams to study art or music may not have been realized without Starbird’s help.
“It’s my dream come true for me and my family,” said Brandon Pike of Waterford, who is majoring in illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “I’ve always dreamed of going to art school and now I can.”
“I probably wouldn’t be going without this scholarship,” said Fletcher Curran of Waterford, another Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School graduate who is attending the Academy of Art University majoring in graphic design.
“I’m so glad,” said Starbird smiling with satisfaction when told how grateful the students were for her generosity.