Giving back to the place where it all began

For the Youngdahls, West Virginia University is a multi-generation family affair that all started at the College of Creative Arts. Their WVU experience – and the life that followed – is the reason they give back through the Richard Powell Trombone Scholarship.

Jon Youngdahl came to WVU on a Board of Governors scholarship in 1968 to study music education, although he always knew he wanted to play trombone for a living. Jon immersed himself in music during his time at WVU, joining the trombone ensemble, a local soul band called the Abductors and eventually starting his own band. The group was so popular around town that they ended up with gigs almost every Friday and Saturday night during the school year.

During his studies, Jon grew close with Richard Powell, former professor of trombone.

“He was like a second father to all of us in the trombone studio,” Jon said. “He had eight kids of his own and lived in a small rancher up off University Avenue, but they used to invite us over to eat Mrs. Powell’s famous lasagna.”

Jon believes the education he received from Powell was a major factor in his successful career.

“Mr. Powell had great confidence in my ability and helped me get gigs on the outside that gave me an edge up on many other players,” Jon said. “I hope his dedicated work with his students will carry on in spirit with the scholarship to help another promising trombone player to learn, work hard and fulfill dreams to become a professional player.”

Jon’s trombone studies gave him many opportunities to play different styles and venues and he was named musical director of WVU summer theatrical productions.

In the summer of 1971, the Drama Department – now referred to as the School of Theatre and Dance – was working on summer productions of “Stop the World… I Want to Get Off” and “Medium Rare,” a musical review. The shows were being considered by the United States State Department to tour military bases in Newfoundland, Labrador, Baffin Island, Iceland and Greenland. When the touring band needed a trombone player, a friend suggested Jon. During the four-week tour, Jon met Sharon O’Kelly.

Sharon had received her bachelor’s degree in drama and was beginning her graduate work when she was casted for the traveling productions. Jon and Sharon clicked on the tour and never looked back – they’ve been married for nearly 45 years.

Both Jon and Sharon have had successful careers using their education. Not long after graduating in 1975, Jon was accepted in the United States Navy Band as a trombone instrumentalist. He served in the band for more than 28 years, then worked in the Department of the Navy for nine years as a civilian before retiring in 2012. Sharon used her drama knowledge to produce programming for young lawyers in her administrative career in law and direct local community productions and musical reviews. The couple worked together to produce worship dramas and scripts for their church for 19 years.

One of the couple’s biggest accomplishments is raising a family with a great deal of Mountaineer pride. They have three children – Todd and twins Kelly and Erin – who all have degrees from WVU.

Todd and his wife Lorin graduated in 1998 with business administration and speech pathology and audiology degrees, respectively. Todd is a financial planner and Lorin is a speech language pathologist for middle and high school students. They have four children who are third generation Mountaineer fans and love to watch WVU football and basketball games.

Kelly graduated from WVU in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She is an education account manager for AVISPL, promoting smart technology and video communications. Her husband, Jeff, also graduated in 2004, his degree in business administration. He is currently vice president of land acquisition for Lennar Corporation. They have two daughters - Stella, six, and Piper, 18 months.

Erin graduated from the WVU School of Nursing in 2004. She is now an elementary school nurse in Maryland. Her three-year-old son, Kian, already knows the “Let’s Go, Mountaineers” chant.

“Endowing the Richard Powell Trombone Scholarship at the College of Creative Arts was a great pleasure, considering all that the College has given to us,” Jon said. “My education, career and family, the most important components of my life, are all a product of WVU.”

This gift was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. Conducted by the WVU Foundation, the fundraising effort will run through December 2017.

February 24, 2017