Delta State University recently received another substantial gift from alumna Margaret Walker Hays. The six-figure contribution, designated for the Delta Music Institute’s Mobile Music Lab and for Delta State’s choir program, marks the 30th time the benefactress from Leland, Miss., has given to her alma mater over the past 15 years.
“Music is one of the things in life that can transport us from the mundane to the ethereal, even momentarily,” said Hays about the inspiration behind her latest example of philanthropy for Delta State, which is situated in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of American music. She and her late husband of 46 years and high school sweetheart, George Rea Walker, a cotton seed executive, enjoyed singing with church choirs in Leland and Greenville and with the area American Red Cross chorus. “I am just thrilled with anything I can do to help students at Delta State who are majoring in the performing arts.”
Hays graduated from Delta State in 1967 with a B.A. in English and history and with a perfect 4.0 GPA. A former Delta State Foundation board member, she has given generously to many of Delta State’s wide-ranging efforts: the Bologna Performing Arts Center, the Annual Fund, President William N. LaForge’s Inauguration Scholarship Fund, the DSU Foundation Scholarship Fund, and the John Grisham baseball fundraising event. Hays lives in Leland with her second husband, Dr. Jimmy Hays, a cardiologist who founded the Jackson (Miss.) Heart Clinic and currently works at Cardiovascular Physicians in Greenville, and whom she married in 2016.
“Margaret Walker Hays has perfected the art of both paying back and paying forward to her alma mater,” said President LaForge. “Delta State is very fortunate to have such a loyal alumna and supporter who, time and time again, has demonstrated the importance of investing in the university and our students. I am very grateful to Margaret for her terrific support for programs, projects, and scholarships that benefit our students and the Delta.”
DMI’s Mobile Music Lab is an afterschool educational outreach program housed in a 26-foot customized bus that contains a recording studio and production studio. Previous grant funding was coming to a conclusion, “and Margaret’s generous gift came at the perfect time,” said DMI Director Tricia Walker. “The DMI Mobile Music Lab allows us to work with groups of students to encourage the use of their voices as a means of expression through songwriting, audio recording, and digital media arts.”
The choral program used its portion of the Hays’ gift to fund a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Bologna Performing Arts Center, featuring DSU students and faculty, along with members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra; a DSU Chorale appearance at the Mississippi American Choral Directors Association conference at the University of Southern Mississippi; and two performance tours of the DSU Chorale through Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, explained Dr. Karen Fosheim, chair of the Department of Music.
“In addition, two outstanding students were named Margaret Walker Vocal Scholars and given a four-year choral scholarship,” she added. “These are life-changing and life-expanding experiences that would not be possible without Margaret’s support.”