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UWRF remembers influential music professor

February 3, 2011

In the corner of office room B46 in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building is a coffee stained, blue cushioned chair with a solid wood frame. Currently a surface to hold boxes and files, it once operated as not only a chair but an occasional bed to one devoted Music Education professor.

The chair once belonged to Hillree Hamilton, 62, who died after a two-year battle with uterine leiomyosarcoma cancer on Jan. 2.

Having maintained her great sense of humor during her cancer treatment, many people were surprised to find out how serious it was, said Professor of Music Camilla Horne.

Hamilton began her professional career in 1971, shortly after graduating the University of Northern Colorado- Greeley with a bachelor degree in music education, according to her curriculum vitae.

It was during her time teaching elementary music that she decided that she wanted to pass on her love of teaching to university students, Horne said.

After obtaining her master’s degree in 1983 from the University of Minnesota, in music education and music therapy, Hamilton served as an adjunct professor at several surrounding universities. During this time she also taught for the Chaska Public Schools district as a music teacher and therapist. In 1999, however, she received her Ph D. from the U of M, according to her CV.

She came to the UW-River Falls Music Department in 1998 and remained until the end of the 2010 fall semester, Horne said.

The courses she taught included Elementary Classroom Music for Elementary Education Majors, World Music and Student Teaching Supervision, said Music Department Chair David Milne.

Within the department, she was valued for her work in the accreditation, assessment, curriculum, and music education committees, Milne said.

While music professors have varying pursuits, Hamilton was influential with the Orff instrument, said a colleague to Hamilton Richard Gaynor.

The instrument, which resembles a xylophone, integrates singing, playing, and movement into an elementary music lesson, said Horne.

Hamilton continued to spend time educating young children while simultaneously working as a professor. Twice a week she would answer to the name, Mrs. Hilree or the Music Lady, at the Creative Hours in Learning Development Center and Wyman preschool, said the CHILD Center Director Minda Matthys.

“You would not find many people to donate time every week like she did,” said Matthys. “Hilree didn’t have any immediate tie with the children, yet she helped us for nothing in return but for smiles on the children’s faces.”

Spending time with the children on the UWRF campus was useful to Hamilton because she was able to relate it to her college courses, said Horne.

Horne added that some of Hamilton’s students would join her with her volunteer time. She would encourage the students to get down on their hands and knees and physically interact with the children.

When Hamilton and her college students would come to visit the young children, they would bring with them unique instruments. Without this exposure, they may not have ever had the opportunity to learn about these different music makers, Matthys said.

Having no children of her own, Hamilton regarded her young and older students as her own children that she loved, Horne said.

It was through this care and generosity that she donated a considerable amount to the UW-River Falls Foundation, which was dedicated to the scholarships for Music Education Students and the CHILD Center, said Milne.

“She was incredible and the students respected her,” said Gaynor.

Music education major, Jamie DeGolier said she was a fair, honorable teacher and a perfect example of what a good professor should be like.

DeGolier added Hamilton was humble about her accomplishments, despite the fact that she had many of them.

“She didn’t just let her students coast by and get things done in a poor manner, but rather, challenged us to be the best we could be and to strive for perfection,” said Katelyn Peterson, a music education major.

“Dr. Hamilton cared about all of her students equally and she knew us probably better than we realized,” said DeGolier.

Matching student teacher personalities with appropriate classrooms was something that Hamilton worked hard at, said Horne.

“Because of my experience with her, I feel more prepared as a teacher,” said DeGolier, “still, it is really hard to go on student teaching without her.”

Hilree Hamilton, preceded by her mother Ruth, is survived by her husband Kyle Brokken, her father and brother Percy and Mark Hamilton, and sister Gayle Hamilton-Gill.

Gaynor said that her influence will be felt with the next generation, if not beyond that.

“So many music educators have been positively influenced from Dr. Hamilton’s time in their lives and her unending support,” said Peterson. “But for me she will always be the educator that not only confirmed, but showed that life was full of music.”