Fund started as tribute to student

The future recipient of an award given by the music faculty scholarship committee must not only be studying to become a music teacher – but they must also have a passion to teach music.

They must be an active participant and a leader in the music program or in ensembles at UW-Eau Claire. They must be a positive role model for their peers, and they must inspire those around them.

Essentially, to receive the Branden Atherton Memorial Music Scholarship, one must have and do what Branden Atherton did, said Heidi Fisher, director of annual giving and major gifts officer for the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

“This is really modeled after everything that Branden demonstrated and exemplified while he was here,” she said of the scholarship that serves as a tribute to the senior music education major who died as a result of an Oct. 16 bus accident. He and members of the Chippewa Falls High School band were returning from a competition at UW-Whitewater when the accident occurred.

The scholarship is one of two recently established as a tribute to Atherton and to music students like him.

The other, the Northwestern Bank Marching Band Scholarship, will benefit UW-Eau Claire students who work with high schools in the Chippewa Valley, said Randy Dickerson, associate professor of music education and director of the university marching band.

Fisher said the Foundation hasn’t worked much with the scholarship to be given in Atherton’s honor because it’s so soon after his death, and the family will decide the amount to be awarded to music students at Chippewa Falls High School and Waukesha West High School and when it will be given.

“(Branden was) an individual who clearly had a love and passion for music,” she said, “and when someone dies like that tragically, to go on and benefit so many others – that’s a great way to do it.”

Junior Andrew Sazama, who has worked with the Chippewa Falls High School marching band drum line for three years, said establishing a scholarship in Atherton’s memory is a good idea.

He attended the high school and marched in its band, which Atherton worked with when Sazama was a senior in high school.

Because Atherton worked with the woodwind players and Sazama played drums, he said he didn’t work with him personally.

“Branden was very involved,” he said, “and his last work was working with kids and music, so I think that is a very appropriate way to honor Branden.”

Sazama said he is pretty interested in checking out the Northwestern Bank Marching Band Scholarship, which began formulating following the bus accident that Sazama also was in. He sat behind Atherton on the bus.

That tragedy wasn’t just one that affected Chippewa Falls, but the Chippewa Valley and UW-Eau Claire, said Jerry Jacobson, president of Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls.

“I was trying to think of ways to sort of mesh that,” he said of the thought process behind the scholarship idea he brought to Fisher.

Two students in the Blugold Marching Band will receive $500 scholarships, assuming they are returning the following fall, Dickerson said. He, as well as three or four other faculty members who are involved with the band, will make up a committee that will select the students in May.

Fisher said the scholarship is a “great” tribute to the students who are “going out and dedicating their time to serving the Chippewa Valley.”