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Butler County art lovers keep the music going

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:07 a.m.
Former art gallery owners Ben Robertson and Don Fink designed and built an addition to their Butler County home to house the renovated, century-old theater pipe organ. Submitted

Each year, the Marion home of two Butler County men is filled with the music of an old theater pipe organ for concerts that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and local music scholarships.

“I know how hard it is to be able to go to college,” said Ben Robertson, one of the concert hosts. “I wouldn't have been able to go to college without a scholarship. If I can be of assistance to someone, I'm glad I am able to help them.”

Robertson, 70, and partner Don Fink, 76, are accepting music scholarship applications, with a Feb. 1 deadline. Selected applicants will appear for a personal interview and audition before a panel of professional musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The winners will perform at the Marion home in May. Grants of $2,000 to $5,000, for a total of $25,000, will be awarded. Robertson said that since 2000, the men have given $176,000 in music scholarships to students playing all sorts of instruments, including strings, brass, woodwinds, piano, organ and percussion. The men have given $275,000 to Make-A-Wish.

Each July, Robertson and Fink host back-to-back concerts for Make-A-Wish, and in the fall, a concert for the music scholarships. In 2012, Robertson said, the concerts raised $20,000 for Make-A-Wish and $30,000 for scholarships.

He said the rustic setting of his and Fink's home is an unlikely location for the organ concerts.

“These are organ concerts that a lot of people don't know about. We invite only the best theater organists,” Robertson said. “We don't bring in second-tier or third-tier talent.”

Robertson and Fink are the retired owners of art gallery and picture frame store Blackwood Gallery in Ross.

The men designed and built, almost completely on their own, an addition to their home that houses the century-old organ, which rises majestically from the basement, for performances.

“It's an experience,” Robertson said.

He couldn't estimate how much the two have spent on the organ and renovations to their home in more than two decades.

“It's a bottomless pit,” Robertson said. “Once you start into a project, you can't start counting the money and you can't stop spending. You have to keep going until it finally works. Pipe organs aren't even around much now. They are costly to maintain.”

Scholarship applications must be postmarked by Feb. 1. Interested students can download the application and guidelines at www.blackwoodmusic.org.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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