Scholarship Honors Late Professor’s Love of Arts, MBU

Photograph of Late Professor Gwen Walsh
Photograph of late professor Gwen Walsh teaching dance

Scholarship Honors Late Professor’s Love of Arts, MBU

It was their mother’s lifelong devotion to the arts that inspired Kevin Walsh and Robyn McNeil to create a scholarship fund in her memory, the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts Fund.

“A while ago, when my sister Robyn asked Mom what she’d like as a memorial, she said that she’d like to have a scholarship for the arts for someone local in the MBU area,” said son Kevin Walsh.

A longtime faculty member at Mary Baldwin University, Gwen Walsh started teaching in 1962 and served as a professor of dance and physical education and fencing instructor until her retirement in 1990. Gwen Walsh passed away on May 4 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, at the age of 94.

“Her No. 1 priority was her students and ensuring that they learned something of value to them,” said Kevin Walsh. “I can still name students who have been lifelong friends with Mom, and stopped in to visit her long after graduating.”

Gwen Walsh’s longtime colleague and friend Betty Kegley, professor emerita of physical and health education, remembered her embodying the qualities of friendliness, frankness, originality, and patience. They shared a double desk in the King building, and, as Kegley put it, “looked at each other for about 30 years.”

“We were very fortunate when Gwen joined us because she was a wonderful person and teacher,” said Kegley. “She had boundless energy; when the rest of us collapsed, she was still going!”

Gwen Walsh was particularly passionate about modern dance, and she revived the fencing program, skiing at the Homestead and Massanutten, and ice skating at the now-closed hotel on Afton Mountain for students at Mary Baldwin.

She was also dedicated to welcoming international students and students in general, bringing them into her home and taking them on trips, such as to the Kennedy Center for dance performances.

Kegley remembers phone conversations with Gwen Walsh at her rest home before she passed away. “Even though Gwen was suffering from memory loss, she always recognized my voice, and all she wanted to talk about was Mary Baldwin,” said Kegley. “Isn’t it wonderful that that’s what she remembered?”

In addition to her professional pursuit of dance and art through movement, Gwen Walsh choreographed and costumed many local theater productions and enjoyed painting and photography, often processing photos in a darkroom in her basement. She and friends also founded Staunton Puppets, creating their own marionettes and performing for local schools and events throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

“A couple of years ago, Mom and I were talking, and she surprised me with an amazing comment out of the blue,” Kevin Walsh remembered. “She said, ‘You know, I’m really proud of myself for raising you kids, sending you to college, and accomplishing it all while doing what I love.’ She was talking about sticking with her teaching career, and specifically about teaching dance.”
She also loved to travel, taking several trips to Europe and Japan to visit family and friends. She earned a bachelor of science in education from the Bouvè-Boston School, part of Tufts University, and a master of education from the University of Virginia.

Her children have established the scholarship with a lead gift of $25,000, and have also designated the fund as the recipient of donations in her memory. These generous gifts will also be credited as supporting the MBU Empowers Campaign.

Students who receive the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts can be at the undergraduate or graduate level, with first preference given to those from the local community (Staunton, Augusta County, Harrisonburg, or Waynesboro) who demonstrate both academic excellence and financial need. It may be applied to tuition, fees, academic materials and equipment, or global travel and study abroad. MBU’s Office of Financial Aid will award the scholarship, which can be renewed for up to three additional years.
Thinking of the future recipients of the Gwen Walsh scholarship, Kevin Walsh hopes that it will enable young people to pursue their dreams even if they aren’t considered entirely practical.

“The scholarship is our way to contribute a little something toward letting someone follow their dreams,” he said.

Memorial donations to the scholarship fund at MBU may be made in her memory by clicking here (specify the Gwen Walsh Memorial Scholarship for the Arts).