A lasting impression: Lee Dennison leaves a gift that keeps on giving

Just as the leaves started to change, the sound of bulldozers signaled the start of another project on the Interlochen campus: a new recreation center. The structure soon to stand in a wooded spot near Pinecrest Dining Hall will be a welcome addition to the Interlochen campus. It also serves as a tribute to Lee Dennison, an alumna and former member of the Interlochen Board of Trustees who believed that a healthy combination of mind and body was the foundation for a better life.

The Dennison Center for Recreation and Wellness will be a 23,172­-square-­foot facility made possible through Dennison’s estate. The new center will include a large gym that can be partitioned for basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer and archery, among other sports activities. The building will also include weight and fitness rooms, a climbing wall, a game room, a studio, separate locker and shower facilities for students and employees, a conference room, and offices for recreation and wellness staff. The facility will accommodate the entire Interlochen community year-round.

The late Lee Dennison (1952-2012) was a 1970 graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy, who left Interlochen a multimillion-dollar bequest. This donation, according to her wishes, was to be used for recreational facilities and equipment on campus.

“Interlochen proved to be a wonderful home for Lee,” says Beth Stoner, former associate vice president for advancement at Interlochen, and longtime friend of Dennison. “I think she spent, all told, about 14 years at Interlochen between camp and academy and working there. Basically, Interlochen is where she grew up. That’s why, in her estate plans, she was so gracious and so generous, because Interlochen really was something that, in her adult life, continued to have deep resonance.”

After joining the Interlochen Board, Dennison was appointed to a task force of trustees creating a new long­-range vision for Interlochen. It was there that President Jeffrey Kimpton, also a member of the task force, first heard her talk about wellness and recreation so passionately.

“We had meetings all over the country with alumni, and on campus with students and staff, and every time Lee would ask the question, ‘What are we doing about student wellness?’ She was relentless. It was Lee’s vision that one day quality of life and personal wellness would be as important as quality of the artistic experience on our campus. How would we ever know that with her passing, that vision would be given to Interlochen?”

While the new facility is exciting, what is most exciting to Kimpton is the program it is creating thanks to Dennison’s gift. “We are creating an entirely new wellness program for our students, integrating daily recreation and activity, nutrition, stress and time management, lifestyle and social/emotional well­-being into a complete curriculum to complement our world­-class arts programs. The Dennison Center is a catalyst that Lee would be very proud and happy to know she created.”

The Dennison gift has already demonstrated its power beyond the new building. It has secured new bike racks; several boats and new motors; tennis, volleyball and basketball courts on the boys’ side of campus; new docks and rafts throughout campus, workout equipment for the Shed, and more.

“The charity and generosity of Lee cannot be overstated,” said Kathleen Kasdorf, Interlochen’s director of planned giving. “She was a supporter of Interlochen throughout her life. She wanted to impact the students, and for the students’ experience to be enriched somehow through her generosity.”

The new recreation center will soon provide the entire Interlochen community a place to stay healthy and fit, thanks to the passion and commitment of one motivated woman.