The History of the Koger Center

The Ira & Nancy Koger Center for the arts demonstrates the cooperative spirit present in South Carolina. Its construction is the product of a shared dream and a shared labour of love for many in the community; a combined effort, with both public and private entities contributing to make this dream a reality.

The center is named for philanthropists Ira and Nancy Koger, who made a substantial donation from personal and corporate funds for construction of the $15 million center. The descendants of Ambrose Elliott Gonzales, Narciso Gener Gonzales, and William Elliott Gonzales made a large donation to the center and the auditorium is named Gonzales Hall in acknowledgement of their contribution.

Other major donations to the construction costs were made by the Knight Foundation of Akron, Ohio, Richland County, and the City of Columbia. The University of South Carolina and the Carolina Research and Development Foundation obtained private gifts for the remainder of the construction costs.

Special gifts include a Steinway concert grand piano which has been donated to the Koger Center by Alice Barron Pearce and her two children, L. Gregory Pearce, Jr. and Alice Barron Pearce Stewart, in memory
of L. Gregory Pearce.

The first performance at the Koger Center was given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and took place on Saturday, January 14, 1989. Construction delays meant that the opening day was a mixture of anxiety and excited expectation. At 3:00 p.m., as a rehearsal took place on stage, scaffolding 60' tall was still erected in the lobby and members of the Board of Trustees were painting walls or laying carpet. At 7:00 p.m. the director, attired in a tuxedo, was seen mopping the stage aided by the event manager likewise attired. Expectations were met when the opening notes of the National Anthem sounded. Those present felt a chill run down their spine as the full effects of the excellent acoustics in the auditorium were heard for the first time.

Despite the many successes at the Koger Center, the perception still exists that the building is under-used. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In an average year, the Koger Center plays hosts to approximately 535 different events. Not all are public events. For each performance on stage there is at least, on average, one rehearsal often more. During the school year fourteen music classes take place in the rehearsal rooms each week and, in addition to the public performances, such diversified events as The State of the State Address, The South Carolina Body Building Championships, and The South Carolina Science Fair, Freshman Orientation, and The Conductor's Institute are held in the building. Far from being under-used, there is a lack of space on the calendar to accommodate all of the various groups that wish to use the building. On average, four events a week are turned down because of the lack of calendar space.

Principle Private Donors

Ira & Nancy Koger

Ira McKissick Koger, a native of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and Nancy Jane Ludwig Tedder Koger, born in Savannah, Georgia, are avid sponsors of the arts and education. Mrs. Koger was instrumental in the development of the Bartrum School, a private school for girls in Jacksonville, Florida, and has also contributed greatly to the Jacksonville Museum of Art. The Kogers lived in Jacksonville for many years and were patrons of the Jacksonville symphony, art museum, and opera.

The Koger's personal art collection, assembled over many years, include Chinese and English ceramics, American and French 19th century antiques, and American impressionist paintings. A portion of these collections has been displayed at the University's McKissick Museum.

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The Gonzales Brothers

In 1891, Ambrose Elliott Gonzales and Narciso Gener Gonzales were central figures in founding The State newspaper in Columbia. Another brother, William Elliott Gonzales, later joined in their efforts.

In 1903, Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman, shot and killed N. G. Gonzales, the first editor and manager, after Gonzales had written a critical article about Tillman in The State. Supposedly, the incident was witnessed by a policeman, who arrested Tillman. Tillman pleaded self defence claiming that he thought Gonzales was reaching for a gun; he was later acquitted. One story suggests that the trial judge was politically aligned with the Tillman family and that several members of the jury were at least distantly related to the Tillmans.

N. G. Gonzales was memorialized with an obelisk erected at the corner of Senate and Sumter streets in Columbia. Ambrose Gonzales, president and publisher of The State died in 1926. William Gonzales, news editor, died in 1937.

The Columbia area families who are descendants of the three brothers have made a large contribution to the Koger Center Building Fund to honour the brothers and to encourage and promote the arts in Columbia.

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The Knight Foundation

The Knight Foundation of Akron, Ohio makes donations and grants to arts and service organizations across the country. Generally the grants are made to groups operating in cities or areas where Knight-Ridder newspapers are located. The Knight-Ridder Company, Inc. purchased The State newspaper in 1987.

The Koger Center was selected because it will draw outstanding performers to the area, will provide new opportunities to local arts organizations, and will improve the quality of life for people in the Midlands of South Carolina.

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L. Gregory Pearce

L. Gregory Pearce was born in Columbia in 1914. As a teenager, Mr. Pearce studied piano and organ at the South Carolina Conservatory of Music. He graduated from the University in 1936, where he played in the Carolina Gamecock Orchestra.

Mr. Pearce worked for the State-Record Company for 20 years, retiring from his job as director of public relations in 1970. He was organist for Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia for 34 years and served as president of the Columbia Music Festival Association and dean of the American Guild of Organists.

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