Established in 1926 by a team of local music enthusiasts who recognized the importance of ensuring our community’s cultural health, RMF has been supporting music education, preservation and local music presenters for nearly 90 years. Their dedication, passion for music and our community, and willingness to “play” by working hard set the standard for RMF.
RMF is a public non-profit foundation supported primarily by you – individuals, businesses and partner foundations. The full 100% of your contributions are reinvested in support of music education and outreach programs, music presenters and concert events in Berks County. In addition, RMF is by far the largest source of financial assistance for committed county music students who audition on merit or demonstrate financial need.
The mission of the Reading Musical Foundation is to advocate for and advance music appreciation and education in Berks County.
The Reading Musical Foundation (RMF) was founded in 1926 when financial crisis threatened the existence of the 13 year old Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Choral Society that had been providing choral music events for nearly 51 years. Incorporated in 1927, the foundation was established through the efforts of Mr. Jerre H. Barr and fourteen other interested men and women from Reading. Its mission was to provide adequate community support for the major musical organizations in Reading. At that time, it was also proposed that the group work to establish a series of free public band concerts and assist in furthering musical education and appreciation in the schools. Working mainly from their living rooms, this group of professionals and area businesspersons raised $30,000 to form the core of the RMF endowment.
The group met intermittently. Financially dependent on the generosity of approximately 75 members, the fund was managed by Jacob Hain and grew to approximately $50,000 by 1961, with the income being used to benefit the RSO and the Choral Society.
By the late sixties, two of RMF’s largest funded organizations, Reading Symphony Orchestra and Reading Choral Society, seemed to have turned the corner and were on the road to steadier ground. The foundation had succeeded in not only helping the Reading Symphony Orchestra survive, but saw the orchestra grow to perform six subscription concerts. The Reading Choral Society had maintained its two or three local concerts annually including the annual sell-out “Messiah” performance each December. And, the Reading Pops Orchestra founded through RMF support was now an officially established musical group, independent of the parent organization.
During that time, the RMF appropriated funds and expanded the Music-in the-Schools” program from the city schools to a countywide effort. The original Music-in-the-Schools program had been started by the area Junior League and was adopted in 1965 by the Reading Musical Foundation.
The RMF also established a scholarship program that presented its first award in 1971.
Paul Roedel was elected treasurer and full auditing procedures were instituted. Jacob Hain, followed by Louis Thun and Jim Yocum ably headed the Finance Committee. By 1980, the endowment had reached a quarter of a million dollars and the membership had grown to approximately 1,000 members.
The arts community in Reading continued to grow and evolve. In the fall of 1985, plans for a “Gateway” Civic Center were announced and a two-day music/entertainment festival at 2nd & Penn was planned. RMF stepped forward to play a major role in the public awareness project directed at encouraging support of the Center on the referendum question of Election Day, November 5th. A task force appointed by the Berks County Commissioners in 1983 reported to the commissioners that “Berks County would benefit from a Civic Center that would include an area for 5,000-6,000 spectators, and a 1,750 seat concert hall….” The facility was proposed to be located at Second & Penn Streets. That same year, Berks County had also been seated number 14 in a national survey of ideal communities in which to live.
Dr. William K. Runyeon completed 20 years of distinguished service as president of the Reading Musical Foundation and was succeeded by the RMF vice president and community leader, Bruce P. Bengtson. The offices of the RMF were returned to a downtown Reading presence in 1988.
Although the plans for a Civic Center in Reading took 15 more years to come to fruition, the RMF wasted no time in broadening its mission of music throughout Berks County. A Funded Organization Advisory Committee was formed in 1993 under the auspices of president, Donald C. Bristol and chaired by Dr. Tom Souders. The RMF Holiday Jam was established in 1995 as a fundraising event featuring local musicians and the growing list of student scholarship winners were featured annually in an “Artists of Tomorrow” concert event. One funded organization, Berks
Grand Opera, sadly closed its doors and Northwest Middle School received the benefits of a national music education program about the blues, “Blues in the Schools.”
The RMF has stepped forward again in 2001 with a $100,000 gift to The Performing Arts Center capital campaign to renovate the Rajah Theatre. The largest gift ever made by the organization to a single project, the pledge reflects the Reading Musical Foundation’s continued commitment to the growth and prosperity of music and the allied arts in Berks County.
RMF’s Scholarship Program exploded due to the efforts of then Chair, C. Thomas Work. After analyzing the Foundation’s scholarship offerings, Mr. Work found major funding holes in the program. The most glaring was the middle school scholarships – the only offerings were for piano and strings, which excluded woodwind and brass players, as well as percussionists and vocalists. In addition to holes in the merit-award system, there were no offerings for students with financial need. In less than four years, the scholarship program grew from 15 available scholarships to 30, and has doubled in the amount of dollars awarded each year. Roughly half of those dollars are split between merit and need-sensitive awards.
The Reading Musical Foundation provides funding support to more than 20 different funded organizations and special music and allied arts projects in Berks County. Last year, appropriations to these groups exceeded $200,000. The Scholarship Program provides more than a dozen different offerings and has awarded over $1,000,000 in scholarship grants to future musicians since its inception.