University of Charleston

University of Charleston

Nishelle Denson

The Alumni Office has been busy with students stopping by to write thank you cards to donors who generously provide scholarships that are part of their financial aid package. Nishelle Denson, daughter of Monica Denson (’92), and an almost Golden Eagle alumnus herself, received the Rose C. Riggio Scholarship.  Through an interesting happenstance meeting, Nishelle learned more about the namesake of her scholarship and the connection the Riggio family has to our campus history.

As a member of the UC choir and band programs, Nishelle has spent a great deal of her campus life in the Keenan Music Hall. During Homecoming weekend this past September, she was approached by a visitor inquiring about the history of the building.  That visitor was Travis Clark who was on campus to attend the Athletic Hall of Fame dinner with his wife, Allyson Lowdermilk Clark (’11).  Travis never met his uncle but heard stories of the music hall named after him and wanted to see the space for himself.

Travis’ questions sparked Nishelle’s curiosity to investigate the history of the hall further. Luckily, she now had a wonderful resource, Travis’ mother and sister to David Keenan, Cheryl Keenan Foster. Cheryl was able to share some of the history of the hall and remarked on how her parents were excited to name the hall in their son’s memory. “When the school talked with Mom and Dad about the renovations of the rehearsal space, they were happy to do it. We all felt this would be a special way to keep David’s memory alive. I know he would be honored to see the hall still being used by music students.”

Nishelle wrote the following article about the history of Keenan Hall and discovered a connection to the family responsible for her scholarship.

“Sing Hallelujah for Keenan Hall”

By Nishelle Denson

Tucked away on the first floor of Riggleman Hall is a corridor lined with unassuming doors, this hallway leads to the most coveted parking lot on campus. Many students and faculty utilize this hallway, passing a plaque next to one of those unassuming doors. The plaque reads “David Ray Keenan Recital Hall.” The music students and faculty at the University of Charleston campus know that this door leads to a dedicated rehearsal space. For years, professors have scheduled rehearsals in Keenan Hall, but who was David Ray Keenan?

David Ray Keenan was born on September 30, 1962. He fell in love with music at a young age and shared his passion through instruments and voice. He was honored to showcase his talent throughout high school, which led him to pursue a career in the performing arts. David started his path to higher learning by attending Marshall University, where he studied music and participated in the University Bands. In his last two years of college, David dual-enrolled at the University of Charleston as well, where he studied voice with an emphasis on opera.  David’s love of opera extended to performing on stage; his last show with the university was “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” A photo from this show was used to create one of the two portraits that hang in Keenan Hall, the other being a portrait of David in profile. The scene from “Amahl” was created from a rehearsal where David was wearing street clothes; the artist traveled to see the costumes worn in the performance to complete the painting. In 1986, during his senior year, David lost his life in a car accident.

The Keenan family donated the funds for the rehearsal space in memory of David. When the hall was dedicated in 1988, they said, “The recital hall means the world to David’s family. It is a symbol of his love and passion for music, as well as a symbol of our love and memory of him. This facility not only keeps his memory alive but also allows others who never knew him but share his passion to enjoy performing at the University that he loved. It is our hope that it will continue to be utilized by students of the performing arts for years to come.”

In the 35 years since the hall’s dedication, the University of Charleston’s music program has undergone many changes, with the most recent being the reintroduction of the music minor on campus. Music is a language that connects people across generations, languages, and demographics. The next time you walk through Keenan Hall, hum a little tune or even sing out loud in honor of David’s dedication to music.

Cheryl also sent Nishelle a copy of the program printed for the hall’s dedication ceremony held on March 25, 1988. The program acknowledged many of the individuals who were part of making Keenan Hall come to life – from the donors to the architects to university staff. Two folks who were recognized caught Nishelle’s attention.

Because Nishelle has received the Rose C. Riggio Scholarship multiple years, writing her thank you note this week was not her first introduction to the Riggio name. So, when she read Donald J. Riggio and Suzanne Riggio in the dedication program, she assumed a connection.

She was right. At the time of David’s death, Donald J Riggio was a conductor and his wife, Suzanne Riggio was dean for the University’s Charleston Conservatory of Music. Donald is also the artist who completed the two paintings that now hang in Keenan Hall.

Donald later established a scholarship with the University and named it after his mother, Rose C. Riggio.

Nishelle will graduate on December 9th with a degree in multidisciplinary studies with focuses on art, psychology, and English. Her future career goals include working with local communities in increase mental health awareness.

“Being a part of the university music programs has been the best addition to my time at UC, and I have made many lifelong friends. As a band member, I’ve met many people from athletics to alumni and created meaningful connections throughout the community. It was my honor to write this article and learn more about a space on campus that has meant so much to me.

“I cannot overstate how grateful I am to receive the Rose C. Riggio Scholarship. In my tenure at UC, I’ve been able to not only pursue my degree, but also participate with the choir, band, and piano programs. Mixing music with my educational journey helped me connect with my fellow students and community in a way that I know will last a lifetime.”