Friends of Clemson honor Brooks Performing Arts Center director
By Beth Anne Lamar
CLEMSON — Closed-door meetings, hushed conversations and covert operations — it all sounds like something from a spy novel, but that’s what went into surprising Lillian “Mickey” Harder, director of Clemson University’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, about naming the main stage in her honor.
Friends of the Brooks Center and other donors gave $136,680 to name the stage for Harder, who has been director of the performing arts center since 1996. The announcement was made at the Brooks Center’s season-opening show with Kennedy Center Honors recipient Barbara Cook.
The secret meetings began in May with fundraising officer Rob Porter; College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities Dean Rick Goodstein; performing arts department chairman David Hartmann; and Brooks Center marketing director Sallie McKenzie. The meetings grew to include other Brooks Center staff, who had to start making excuses for their absence from the office to attend the meetings.
“The secret meetings in Strode Tower were difficult because we all had to make an excuse to leave the Brooks Center. We had to coordinate our excuses,” said McKenzie.
Patrons were incredibly supportive as the news spread quickly. They chatted with one another in anticipation.
“We wanted to keep it a surprise as long as possible,” said McKenzie.
Many times Brooks Center employees quickly changed topics when Harder walked into the room.
The night of the announcement, Harder greeted patrons with staff member Thomas Hudgins alongside her.
“That night, I was trailing Mickey quite a bit,” Hudgins said. “During the annual Friends of the Brooks Center reception, I was afraid someone might spill the beans. I felt like the Secret Service, ready to step in and deflect any spoilers that might come her way.”
All was normal as she welcomed the audience until Clemson President James F. Barker and Goodstein entered from stage left to make the announcement.
“I have never been more surprised in my life,” Harder said, her face lighting up.
“At the mention of the Brooks Center, one name comes to mind: Mickey Harder,” said Goodstein. “This is a fitting tribute to her career and tireless work on behalf of the performing arts and a permanent commemoration for her remarkable accomplishments at Clemson. The Brooks Center, largely due to Mickey Harder’s direction, has been transformational for the arts at Clemson.”
Not only will the stage be named after Harder, she can determine how the money will be used.
“I have chosen to put the majority of the donation into the Utsey Chamber Music Endowment, a series that is very dear to my heart,” said Harder. The series is named in memory of Harder’s parents and presents free chamber music concerts.
“I know offering a free performance will allow more families to introduce their children to classical music,” she said.
Barker said he remembers, as dean of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, going to chamber music concerts in an old lecture hall, Daniel Auditorium.
“The music was always beautiful, but the acoustics could have been better,” he said. “Since moving to its current home in the Brooks Center, the Utsey Series has blossomed under Mickey’s nurturing. It is very fitting that this gift honors her, helps the Utsey Series and recognizes her pivotal role in creating the Brooks Center itself.”
“Anybody who’s been in the community knows Mickey pours her heart and soul into her job,” McKenzie said. “She deserves to be properly honored for her hard work and passion.”
Signs designating the Lillian “Mickey” Harder Stage will be in the Brooks Center lobby.
“I am beyond thankful,” said Harder, “and I am so glad to be giving back to the community.”
For more information on the Utsey Chamber Music Series and the Brooks Center, go to http://www.clemson.edu/Brooks.
The donation is part of Clemson’s The Will to Lead capital campaign, which aims to raise $1 billion to support Clemson students and faculty with scholarships, professorships, facilities, technology and enhanced opportunities for learning and research.