UNCSA School of Music receives $1 million gift from estate of Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian

The School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts has received a gift of $1 million from the estate of artist and philanthropist Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian, daughter of school founders, advocates and benefactors Dr. James H. Semans and Mary D.B.T. Semans, to endow merit-based scholarships. Chancellor Lindsay Bierman announced the gift Friday at the start of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute’s “La Cenerentola, Ossia La Bonta in Trionfo” at the Stevens Center.

“With this endowment, the estate of Jenny Koortbojian honors the legacy established by her parents, Jim and Mary Semans,” Bierman said. “Like her parents, Jenny was passionate about the arts and about life-long learning. Since its founding, the School of the Arts has been fortunate to have the support and friendship of the Semans family, and we are deeply grateful for this transformative gift.”

Beth Hubbard, Mary Semans and Jenny Koortbojian

Jenny Semans Koortbojian, right, with her sister, Beth Semans Hubbard, and her mother, Mary D.B.T. Semans, at the UNCSA Founders Forum in 2006.

Koortbojian’s father was the first chairman of the UNCSA Board of Trustees. Her mother served on the board for more than 20 years, and her nephew, Charles Lucas, also served as chair of the Board of Trustees and recently completed 19 years of service on the Board.

“The Duke-Semans family’s commitment to UNCSA is unwavering, and we are so proud of the school and all of the students, faculty, alumni and administrative leadership that have helped make it such a special institution,” Lucas said. “My aunt Jenny inherited from her parents deep and abiding love and respect for UNCSA. On behalf of her family and friends, we are so pleased to honor her by establishing the Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian Music Scholarship which will help our talented students achieve their dreams.”

The Duke-Semans family’s commitment to UNCSA is unwavering, and we are so proud of the school and all of the students, faculty, alumni and administrative leadership that have helped make it such a special institution.

Charles Lucas

Koortbojian died July 20, 2016 at Duke University Hospital in Durham, where she was born on Sept. 21, 1954. From her mother, she inherited a dedication to important causes, including education, the arts and human rights. She travelled with her parents on UNCSA School of Music’s historic tours to Italy. A gifted artist, she created intricate collages from apparently disparate materials by delving into literature, history, photography, art, and collecting postcards, photos, magazine imagery and articles. She was a talented writer as well, having worked for The Paris Review. She also compiled a manuscript of sonnets. 

Vice Chancellor for Advancement Edward J. Lewis, III said the Koortbojian endowment serves as a leadership gift in UNCSA’s comprehensive fundraising campaign. “UNCSA has a tremendous need for scholarship funds so that we can continue to recruit and retain the most promising young artists,” Lewis said. “This generous gift ensures that talented aspiring musicians can pursue their artistic dreams. We are profoundly grateful.”

Music Dean Brian Cole said several students already have benefitted from the gift, including some who performed during the opera. “We’ve been fortunate to award some of the scholarship funds to students who otherwise might not have been able to enroll this semester,” Cole said. “How fitting it is that we announce this generous gift in the company of aspiring artists who already have benefited, and before an audience that appreciates the Semans family legacy of supporting arts and education.”

Jenny Koortbojian loved music, like her parents and like all of the students who will perform here tonight. The endowment from her estate will support some of these students, and many who will perform on this stage in years to come.

Music Dean Brian Cole

In addition to UNCSA, the Semans were avid supporters of the North Carolina Symphony and the North Carolina Museum of Art, among many other arts organizations. In 1971, the couple received the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, for their contributions to the fine arts. “They personify the best leadership of their era,” the citation read.

“Jenny Koortbojian loved music, like her parents and like all of the students who will perform here tonight. The endowment from her estate will support some of these students, and many who will perform on this stage in years to come,” Cole added.

The Semanses individually held memberships on the school's Board of Visitors and Foundation Board. In addition, both served on the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts Board of Advisors. They were the single largest contributors each year to the school's former International Music Program, traveling with the participants for more than 30 years on the European tours. They established an endowment fund for the school's original library, which was named for them. In addition, they established three grant programs for students, including the Semans Art Fund, which supports UNCSA students’ creative projects, and numerous scholarship funds for students.

by Lauren Whitaker

February 05, 2018