Celebrating Salem Academy And College At 250

Celebrating Salem Academy And College At 250

7:57am Sep 24, 2021
Margaret Vardell Sandresky (Academy '38, College '42) at her home in Winston-Salem. DAVID FORD/WFDD

This weekend, the Triad celebrates three milestones during An Evening for Salem: the 250th anniversary of Salem Academy and College, the Winston-Salem Symphony turning 75, and beloved Salem alumna and retired music professor Margaret Vardell Sandresky celebrating her 100th birthday.

Sandresky, who graduated from the academy in 1938 and the college four years later, calls her time at Salem invaluable, teaching her how to organize, and relate to others while providing plenty of room for personal growth and creativity. That formative experience led to the title of her new piece for woodwinds and strings: Gaudeamus: Celebrating 250 Years of the Enabling of Women at Salem Academy and College.

Sandresky says the City of Arts owes Salem a great debt dating back centuries bringing in artists and performers from around the world.

“And we know that because one of the students at the academy wrote a letter in 1828 and it sort of begins, ‘Dear cousin, we had a very pleasant evening here at the academy when Haydn’s oratorio The Creation was performed, and a group of very stylish young ladies and gentlemen sang in the chorus [laughs],’” she says.

Sandresky’s new work, Gaudeamus — Latin for rejoice — is a co-commission of Salem and the Winston-Salem Symphony, now in its 75th year.

“The symphony was really hatched at Salem College," says Sandresky. “It had its first rehearsals in Memorial Hall down there on the campus, and Salem College wrote the grant that got the conductor down here to form the symphony. And so, I’m celebrating 100 years. The symphony is celebrating, the college is celebrating, so, we’re all gaudeamus [laughs]!”

And Salem Academy and College President Summer McGee is celebrating her new role. She says after major dips in enrollment — as experienced by many small private colleges across the country due to the pandemic — the community and alumni response has allowed the school to set aside reserve funds once again and to lay the groundwork for the future, transforming Salem’s curriculum with a new focus on health and health-related fields in addition to its traditional liberal arts education.

“When I was considering coming to Salem, I really thought about the immense responsibility of shepherding and stewarding and transforming a 250-year-old institution,” says McGee. “And what a great time to be a new leader as an institution is taking stock of its history and what it has meant to this community, and then an opportunity to look forward and see what this institution can become.”

An Evening for Salem is Saturday night in Hanes Auditorium with proceeds benefiting the school. The program begins with Margaret Vardell Sandresky’s Gaudeamus and concludes with Joe Clark Steps Out written by her father Charles Vardell — former dean of the Salem music school — in 1933.


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