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Wichita Businessman Establishes $1 Million Endowed Fund at McPherson College

Fern Lingenfelter

MC alumna and piano teacher Fern Lingenfelter.

McPherson College will offer a new music series and a student scholarship, thanks to a generous $1 million commitment to the college’s “Power the Future” campaign in honor of MC alumna and piano teacher Fern Lingenfelter.

Her son, Steve Clark – chairman of Clark Investment Group in Wichita, Kan. – has generously established the fund at MC to support the new Fern Lingenfelter Artist Series. This cultural series will consist of two annual music performance events with a special emphasis on piano.

Dr. Steven Gustafson, the coordinator of the college’s arts and lecture series, said that the Fern Lingenfelter Artist Series will be a significant enhancement to the college’s cultural offerings, both to the campus and surrounding communities.

“Not only will the series enrich opportunities to hear great performances,” Dr. Gustafson said, “but it is also a most fitting tribute on behalf of Mr. Clark to honor his mother, Fern Lingenfelter, and her significant work as a piano teacher and advocate for music education.”

The fund will not only support great musical performances and masterclasses for the campus and community, it will also foster future generations of musicians. After the establishment of the performance series, the fund will create the Fern Lingenfelter Scholarship in Music – an annual merit-based scholarship for one or more full-time MC students majoring in music.

“McPherson College has seen a rebirth in our music programs the last few years,” McPherson College President Michael Schneider said. “This gift solidifies both Steve’s commitment to his mother’s legacy and our place as a leader in performing arts across the state of Kansas.”

Lingenfelter taught piano in McPherson for years – both traditional college students on the MC campus and younger students at a studio downtown. She developed her skills by studying with Jessie Brown at McPherson College – where she earned a certificate in piano in 1924 – and with Swedish pianist Oscar Thorsén at Bethany College.

Lingenfelter earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1925 and later a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938 from McPherson College. After marrying Layman Clark and leaving McPherson in 1940, Fern and Layman had one son together – Steve Clark. Lingenfelter later married William D. Stoebuck of Wichita.

History speaks to Lingenfelter’s dedication to teaching music and public piano performance; she was described in a 1939 “Quadrangle” McPherson College yearbook as “busy filling the air with music.”

Her schedule must have been packed. Her public performances are frequently mentioned in the 1920s through the 1940s in the “McPherson Daily Republican,” she played organ during services at the original First Baptist Church in McPherson until 1940, and the “Quadrangle” spoke of her “frequent recitals in the college chapel.”

Throughout her career, those she encountered remarked upon her patience, ability, and joy. She was credited with the large enrollment in the Junior Piano Department. Her students from elementary age through college won contests and learned with “unusual rapidity.”

But her kind, understated personality was likely her most remarkable characteristic. The 1932 “Quadrangle” remarked, “Although very quiet, she has a ready smile and willingly gives of her talent.”

That commitment to community, strong work ethic and a kind disposition have apparently been passed from mother to son. Steve Clark has been a central figure in the Wichita real estate market for more than 45 years and has properties in many states. His long history of supporting the local and regional community includes work with the Greater Wichita YMCA, Wichita State University, and the Kansas Board of Regents. He was honored in 2015 by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce as Wichita’s “Uncommon Citizen” and in 2013 was inducted into the Wichita Business Hall of Fame.

Although his mother passed away in 1962, Steve said he has seen a long and lasting influence from her lifetime of work. Establishing the fund is his way to say, “Thank you,” and to support the music and the instrument she loved so much.

“Music and piano were her passion, and even years later people in McPherson would tell me, ‘Your mother was my piano teacher,’” Clark said. “One of my biggest regrets is not fulfilling her desire for me to play the piano. She always spoke fondly of McPherson College. I know she would be pleased to know what the college is now doing in her remembrance.”