Marietta College celebrates the opening of new music therapy program

Students in a music therapy room

As is true for most alumni, Marietta College is the root of countless meaningful moments for Don and Leslie Straub Ritter.

In addition to earning their degrees, the Ritters also gained lifelong friends, made lasting memories, and also met and married each other on the historic campus. On Friday, the couple made and shared yet another memory with fellow alumni, students, faculty and staff — they helped dedicate the new music therapy program and unveil the newly renovated space in the McKinney Mass Media Building.

“In light of the extreme generosity of the Ritters, we are pleased to honor their commitment by naming the newly established program the Don ’81 and Leslie Straub Ritter ’85 Music Therapy Program, in memory of a special friend, John Catt,” said Marietta College President William N. Ruud.

The couple contacted Ruud on Christmas Eve last year to express a desire to create and fund a new music therapy program at Marietta. With the $1 million donation, the college began the process of recruiting a talented professor to help build the program, as well as renovate a dedicated space on campus to include classrooms, observation rooms and a recording space.

Dr. Yadira Albornoz was hired to build and lead the music therapy program, which will be voted on for approval by the college’s curriculum committee and faculty in the coming months. She is currently teaching an introduction to music therapy course to six current students who are prospective majors in the program.

Music therapy is an allied health profession that uses music interventions during therapeutic treatment for a patient’s physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. There is a demand for these types of therapists in hospitals, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, hospice care and schools.

“Everyone here is ready to thank us but really, what we’re trying to do is thank you,” Don Ritter said. He spoke of his friend, the late John Catt, who introduced him to music therapy and thanked many people who helped get the budding music therapy program at Marietta off the ground.

The general contractor for the McKinney Building’s renovations was Grae-Con Construction. In all, there were 17 different subcontractors that helped with the renovations to McKinney and The Gathering Place, which received a new sound and lighting system, flooring and stage.

“Their gift was absolutely transformational,” Ruud said. “This program will attract new students and bolster opportunities for current music majors. The college will now be able to support students who wish to pursue board-certified music therapy and work to improve the psychological and physiological functioning in a variety of settings. But their investment in the future of the college has not stopped there. Most recently, they have generously given funding to help with the renovation of The Gathering Place and the addition of a world-class recording studio in this very building.”

Marshall Kimball, Chair of the Music Department at Marietta, said the new space in McKinney will include music therapy clinic rooms that will be connected to observation rooms by one-way mirrors.

“These windows allow the professor to observe the therapy session to go on without the client being disturbed by the presence of the professor/observer,” Kimball said. “The student therapist will also have access to a wireless earphone so that the professor can instruct without the peer client knowing what the professor is telling the student therapist to try.”

Angela Anderson, Vice President for Advancement at Marietta, said the Ritters, along with 1972 graduate Ron Rinard, a fellow petroleum engineering alum who served with Don on the board of trustees, generously committed a total of $650,000 — $130,000 per year for five years — for a one-to-one challenge match for gifts made to music, the arts and music therapy at Marietta College.

“We found love at Marietta College,” Leslie Ritter said. “From the minute we walked onto campus, I just fell in love with the place. That love story continues. We have truly learned about legacy and stewardship through the experiences and relationships we’ve had at Marietta. … We found that this is a way that we can leave a nice legacy and show stewardship by leaving a gift of something we are really passionate about — and that is music.”