By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A free concert will be presented at 3 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the grand opening of the Connie Niemann Center for Music on Quincy University's North Campus.
The event not only will give the public a chance to look inside the recently completed center, but it also will provide some recognition for the donors who helped make the center a reality.
Rich Niemann Sr. and the Niemann Foods Foundation donated $1 million for the project last year -- the largest gift the university has ever received from a living donor.
Niemann, the chairman of the board of Quincy-based Niemann Foods Inc., said he arranged the donation to honor his wife, Connie, whom he describes as the "unsung hero" of his business and personal life.
"Connie has had such a love of music," he said. "I wanted to honor Connie and wanted to recognize her for her civic involvement and her music performance."
The money was used primarily to transform a section of the "B" Building on QU's North Campus into a music center and community meeting space.
At the heart of the project was the renovation of two connecting chapels, separated by a retractable divider.
The north chapel was converted into a performance hall with enhanced acoustics, better seating and beautification throughout.
"The physical structure of the chapel was not changed. Everything was just completely rehabbed and remodeled and cleaned," said Matt Bergman, QU's director of advancement.
Barbara Schleppenbach, chairman of QU's Division of Fine Arts and Communication, said a major emphasis was placed on providing the best sound quality possible in the new performance venue, which will seat up to 270 people.
"It's about as ideal a space for music as one could have," Schleppenbach said. "This is definitely a state-of-the-art space."
At the same time, the north chapel will continue to be used for various services in association with group retreats on the North Campus.
"It was important to us that it retains its character as a sacred space, as well as being a music performance space," Schleppenbach said.
Meanwhile, the south chapel has been converted into a multipurpose reception area. It will have a capacity of 125 for formal dinners and 300 for receptions.
"It would be a great place to have a wedding," Schleppenbach said.
In addition, the Niemann donation was used to construct an elaborate new entry on the south side of the building at 16th and Seminary Road. A new circle drive was installed so visitors can drop off people at the door, and an outdoor patio area was developed.
Just inside the new entry, a grand atrium space was created by eliminating a half-dozen rooms from the second floor of the "B" Building. The atrium area also will be available for future receptions.
The center also features some new hallways, meeting rooms and restrooms.
The center was designed in such a way to showcase the 48 original stained-glass windows created by the Rev. Tom Brown, founder of the Quincy University art department. Brown's artwork has been displayed for years in that section of the building.
Niemann said he couldn't be happier with the Connie Niemann Center for Music.
"All in all, it turned out very nicely," he said.
Schleppenbach said the center will serve as a source of pride for QU students, especially the ones involved in the university's music programs.
"The music department is almost as old as the institution, and it's had several homes," she said. "But we think this is someplace where we can expect it to stay and continue to grow.
"A lot of people have waited for this day. We're celebrating our history and looking at the next chapter."
Saturday's free public concert will be followed by a gala reception inside the new Connie Niemann Center for Music.
The program will include selections performed by each of Quincy University's instrumental and choral ensembles, as well as solos by several faculty members and a grand finale featuring alumni musicians.
QU faculty participants will include Bill Machold, assistant professor and director of bands; Allen Means, assistant professor and director of choirs; Steve Parke, associate professor and jazz artist-in-residence; Leonora Suppan-Gehrich, artist-in-residence; Lou Margaglione, professor of music; Amy Stollberg, assistant director of bands and vocal instructor; and music instructors Mike Saul and Jesse Mazzoccoli.