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Curtain Call: CFA director Sylvia Hunt set to retire

If you happen to catch the answering machine on College of Idaho alumna Sylvia Hunt’s home phone, you might think you’ve misdialed.

“This is the Caldwell Fine Arts…,” the recorded message starts out.

But it’s really no surprise. Hunt works tirelessly to promote the fine arts. Starting in 1981, when Hunt took over as executive director from her mentor and celebrated College of Idaho music professor Richard Skyrm, CFA has continued a historic legacy of offering world-class fine arts performances and providing remarkable educational outreach in the local community.

And after more than three decades, Hunt is taking her final curtain call.

“She is in many ways synonymous now with Caldwell Fine Arts and Jewett Auditorium,” said C of I music professor Dr. Paul Moulton. “She’s been a part of the history since the beginning.”

Hunt was playing bassoon with a community orchestra in 1962—three years after she graduated from the C of I with a degree in music education—when sound engineers were testing the acoustics in the newly built Jewett Auditorium. She also was present for the first CFA show in ’62, The American Symphony of Los Angeles.

Since then, Hunt has seen more than 400 performances in Jewett Auditorium. She can’t pick a favorite, but enjoys the distinct experience each live performance brings and the accompanying memories created for CFA patrons.

“Her passion for live performance really is contagious,” Moulton said. “You talk with her for five minutes and you really feel the passion and it motivates you to be involved and community-minded.”

Whether it is taking Mexico’s leading brass quintet, Metales M5, into local Sacajawea Elementary School, performing piano duets for school children with fellow C of I alumna Barbara Attebery ’47, or giving countless piano lessons, inspiring the next generation of musicians and performers is also a passion of Hunt’s.

“In addition to presenting a terrific fine arts series year after year, Sylvia’s dedication to bringing live performances and workshops to local school children has meant so much to the community and has greatly enriched lives,” said Dr. John Ottenhoff, a CFA board member and C of I vice president for academic affairs.

For fellow board member Amber Barnes, her introduction to dance and the fine arts came through a CFA educational outreach program. While a fourth-grade student at Washington Elementary School in Caldwell, Barnes saw a live dance performance that inspired her.

“Ever since that day, I’ve been in the arts,” said Barnes, who now owns her own dance studio in Star.

She eventually auditioned and won roles in the CFA’s annual Nutcracker performance put on by the Eugene Ballet. Today, Barnes has come full circle and is the children’s director for CFA’s Nutcracker.

“Obviously Sylvia has played a huge role in making sure the kids of Caldwell and Canyon County get those opportunities, because it’s not every day that a kid gets to go to a live performance,” Barnes said.

And just as Hunt and Caldwell Fine Arts have generously opened the doors to fine arts for many people, it was a generous C of I scholarship that opened the door for Hunt to continue her music education after graduating from Idaho Falls High School.

“It was a big deal—I would never have been able to go to The College of Idaho,” Hunt said.

And everything she’s done for Caldwell Fine Arts is a credit to The College of Idaho musical legends that came before her—professors like J.J. Smith, F.F. Beale, Walter Cerveny, Fern Nolte Davidson, James H. Gabbard and Hunt’s own mentor Richard Skyrm. Now being inducted into the C of I Musical Hall of Fame herself, Hunt will forever stand amongst those who influenced her. And she points out that it’s not her alone that has made Caldwell Fine Arts what it is today. It’s all the people that have participated and volunteered with CFA throughout the years.

“It’s sappy what I feel, but I can’t help it,” Hunt said. “I walk through Jewett Auditorium and see the seats and memories come back.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.