Family Commitment to Interlochen Spans Decades

Jim and Mary Tolley have so many Interlochen stories to tell that it’s hard to know where to begin. Mary might start with memories of her two summers at the National Music Camp or the pride she felt when her son decided to go to the Interlochen Arts Academy. Jim could share stories of serving on the Board of Trustees with Interlochen legends like W. Clement Stone and Charlie McWhorter or his most recent role as a participant in the College of Creative Arts memoir-writing workshop. Wherever you start, what soon becomes obvious is that the Tolleys’ long-standing relationship with Interlochen is based on both give and take: they’ve received much from Interlochen over the years, and they’ve spent the past three decades giving back.

“If you love this place, it’s a privilege as well as a responsibility to try to bring in the support that’s needed,” said Jim, describing their ongoing commitment to Interlochen and challenging others to join them. As it is with so many Interlochen supporters, the Tolleys’ commitment started with one family member, one summer, and just grew from there.

The Tolleys’ story starts in 1950, when Mary (Avery) first came to Interlochen as an Intermediate piano major. An uninspired clarinetist at the time, she took an exploratory band instrument class and discovered that she was drawn to the flute much more than the clarinet. She spent the school year playing flute in her high school band and orchestra and by the next summer had improved enough to play flute in the National Music Camp’s high school band.

“What I’ve always said about those 16 weeks was that I had 16 wonderful weeks in adolescence—the 16 weeks I spent at Interlochen. Like most people say, it changes your life.” Although Mary put her flute away after high school, she picked it up again after 43 years when osteoarthritis in her fingers meant that she could no longer reach an octave on the piano. She now plays with a concert band in their hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

Mary’s 16 weeks at Interlochen changed more than just her life and her choice of musical instruments. “I dragged Jim up there the first year we were married to see why it meant so much to me,” Mary said of Jim’s introduction. They settled in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and eventually had two more Interlochen stories to tell as sons Dave (AS 77) and Jim (IAA 77-80) joined the ranks of Interlochen alumni.
After their son Jim graduated from the Academy in 1980, Jim and Mary added a new role to their list of Interlochen affiliations: donors. When asked why they decided to begin supporting Interlochen financially, Jim replied, “For a while, when we first started giving, it was very much with the idea of giving back because of what Interlochen had given us, in the form of scholarships for Jimmy. But that changed over the years from giving back to the idea of supporting the mission of Interlochen.”

In the 1980s, Jim worked in public relations in the Detroit area and knew several members of the Board of Trustees. In 1988, they invited him to join them on the board. “I was almost totally surrounded by members of my family who had been there, although I never had a direct connection myself except to visit and pay for Jimmy’s education,” Jim said. “I checked with the family, and they said, ‘Yes, do it!’ So I did.” With the family’s encouragement, he served on the board for 19 years, including five as board chair. Jim retired from the board in 2007, after serving with five of Interlochen’s seven presidents. Reflecting on his time as a trustee, he cited his role as chair of the search committee that brought President Jeff Kimpton to Interlochen in 2003 and creation of the campus master plan as highlights.

These days, Jim and Mary spread the word about Interlochen wherever they can, adding their personal stories and enthusiasm. They encourage people to visit campus and enjoy all that Interlochen has to offer, but most importantly to support Interlochen, to make sure that everyone who deserves it has the opportunity to go to the camp or academy.

They also continue to be a presence on the Interlochen campus through their involvement in the College of Creative Arts. Mary has played flute at the adult band camp for four years, and Jim had his inaugural turn in the student’s seat at the memoir-writing workshop in 2011. They’re planning to stick around. Five-year-old granddaughter Penelope (Jimmy’s daughter) will be old enough for camp in just a few years—hopefully she’ll be an Interlochen kid, too.