Former choir member supports today's voice majors

September 14, 2016

Just about anyone involved in a musical ensemble while in college can attest to the friendships formed and connections made while doing something they loved. Jean Winger Johnson’s experiences with the Penn State Chorus and Chapel Choir in the 1960s recently led Jean and her husband, Robert, to make an estate gift to the Willa C. Taylor Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to undergraduate voice majors.

“The choral groups provided a ‘home base’ for me, a group of wonderful friends from all disciplines and living areas of the University,” said Johnson, 1966 bachelor of science in education. “This connection with friends who enjoyed the common fun of creating beautiful music together has encouraged me to seek out similar groups wherever we have lived.”

Over the years, Johnson, a longtime educator at the elementary level and in library science, has sung in community choirs in Houston and Norfolk, where she now lives. She currently participates in the Virginia Choral Society and volunteers as a docent at the Chrysler Museum of Art, in addition to publishing a newsletter for the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance.

She fondly remembers her time at Penn State, especially the opportunity to tour with the European Choir during the summer of 1965. “Having lived in a small town in central Pennsylvania, Penn State exposed me to a much wider world, people from other countries and other parts of the United States who had vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints,” explained Johnson. “These were the years of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Era and we would form groups after dinner and talk about what was happening in our country. The travel experience that I had with the European Choir was life-changing for me and led me to seek an opportunity to work abroad and to travel as much as possible, which I still enjoy today.”

Johnson -- who spent a year teaching for the Department of Defense at Karlsruhe, Germany -- said she wanted to give back to Penn State because college is much more expensive today than when she attended. “I think that my generation was very fortunate to have been able to afford a four-year residential program at a major university such as Penn State. It is much harder today for young students to do so and I think our gifts are important and a way to pay back the opportunities that we had.”

For information on making a gift to the College of Arts and Architecture, visit

Last Updated September 14, 2016