Student Voice


May 27, 2024


UWRF alum recognized for outstanding service

December 13, 2007

For Mary Ella Jerome, UW-River Falls has been a place of relationships, connections, education and inspiration.

Jerome was recently named the 2007-2008 recipient of the UWRF Outstanding Service Award.  This award “recognizes the accomplishments of individuals and organizations outside of the University community that have made exemplary contributions to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls through their support of our goals and their volunteer efforts on our behalf,” according to the University Web site.

Jerome was chosen for this award because she has provided UWRF with a number of scholarships, and she provided financial aid to restore some of the music department’s pianos.

“I’m very honored that the University is recognizing me for this,” Jerome said.

Jerome’s contributions have made a positive impact on the UWRF music department.

“She’s been a tremendous help; she understands the history of the department, and she also understands the future needs of the department,” David Milne, the current chair of the UWRF music department said. “I think she bases a lot of the generous gifts to the music department on her wonderful, positive experiences in music here.”

Jerome’s generous gifts go beyond the UWRF music department. She has instituted music scholarships, one named after her and two named for her twin aunts, Lila Estenson Byng and Lola Estenson Yd. She has also created an agricultural scholarship named after her late father, Wallace Henry Jerome and an education scholarship named after her late mother, Marion Estenson Jerome, according to a 2006 Falcon Features article by Brenda K. Bredhal entitled “Melodies in the Key of Life.”

Importance of Family
Jerome’s family is an integral part of her life. The business that her father started, Jerome Foods, now known as the Jennie-O Turkey Store after a merger with Hormel Foods, has enabled Jerome to give back to UWRF. 

“I spent approximately 17 years developing supervisors within the company,” Jerome said.

Henry Wallace Jerome was a pioneer in the agricultural industry and in 1975, he received the Distinguished Agriculturalist Award from UWRF, according to the Falcon Features article. Jerome decided to honor him by naming her agriculture scholarship after him. Jerome also honored her mother by creating the Marion Estenson Jerome Education Scholarship. Jerome’s mother was a proponent of education all of her life, and she taught at New Richmond High School and Birchwood School, according to the Falcon Features article. Marion also took part in the family business by serving on the Jerome Foods Board of Directors, according to the article. Jerome honored her aunt, Lola Estenson Yde, by dedicating the Lola Estenson Yde Instrumental Music Scholarship to her. She also honored her other aunt, Lila, by naming the Lila Estneson Byng Keyboard Scholarship after her.

Education and Mentors
Jerome is a 1974 graduate of UWRF with a Bachelor of Science degree in music education, with an emphasis in piano/vocal music, according to a public affairs news release. After receiving her bachelor’s at UWRF, Jerome went on to teach grades 7-12 at Blue Earth High School (Minn.). Then she received her MBA from UW-Madison, according to the news release. Jerome is quick to acknowledge the influential professors that shaped her as a musician and as a person at UWRF.

“I had excellent River Falls instructors,” Jerome said.

Mike Drost, a former UWRF music instructor and piano mechanic; Lillian Tan, a former UWRF music history and piano pedagogy teacher; Elliot Wold, the former UWRF concert choir director and Conrad DeJong, another former UWRF music are amongst those that Jerome acknowledges as influential professors that had an impact upon her.

“I give a great deal of credit to Lillian Tan,” Jerome said.

Tan was instrumental in the process of restoring the music department’s pianos.

“She was my liaison and she was so helpful to me in getting this whole process started and in keeping it going,” Jerome said.

Drost has also been a great help in the restoration of the pianos. Drost’s company, Three Rivers Piano Service, restored the pianos, Jerome said. 

Wold was a mentor who provided Jerome with invaluable hands-on experience. Jerome accompanied him in recitals during her tenure at UWRF. 

“I learned from his classes, listening to him and I learned so much by just sitting on that piano bench next to him,” Jerome said.

DeJong exposed Jerome to music that she had no idea even existed.

“He was the person that opened my eyes and ears to twentieth century music,” Jerome said.

Jerome’s scholarships advance education
This year’s recipient of the Mary Ella Jerome Vocal/Choral Music scholarship, junior Stephanie Webster, is grateful for the opportunity it has provided her. 

“It’s a big deal to me,” Webster said. “I’m working hard and I’m glad people recognize that.”

Webster is majoring in vocal music education. She plans to follow a similar path as Jerome.

“I plan on teaching for a couple of years [after receiving a degree from UWRF], then I might go to grad school to study vocal performance or choral conducting,” Webster said.

Jerome’s scholarships have provided students like Stephanie a means to pursue their interests. Jerome is an advocate of using the gifts that people possess.

“God gives everyone gifts and we need to use them,” Jerome said. “Believe in yourself.”