TD Bank Regional Manager Allison Bryant, second from left, presents a check in the amount of $2,000 to the RSU 29 Music Department for the creation of a scholarship in memory of Jason Anderson, the district's former choral instructor who died in October. Taking part in the presentation are, from left, Nicholas Foster, RSU 29 choral instructor; Bryant; Kevin Mania, RSU 29 music director; Jennifer Riley Vega, TD Bank and spouse of Anderson; and Michael Hutchinson, middle school band director. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Riley Vega

HOULTON, Maine  The beat will live on for southern Aroostook County students who have a passion for music.

The family of Jason Anderson, the former choral director at RSU 29 who died Oct. 19 of cancer, created a new scholarship to honor his memory and to enable youths to attend a summer music camp at University of Maine Orono, Anderson’s alma mater.

Anderson’s commitment to the performing arts was obvious to anyone who knew him. He served as the visual and performing arts specialist for the Maine Department of Education starting in July 2019, and nine years before that as Houlton school district’s choral director.

The new scholarship will allow kids who otherwise cannot afford it to attend music camp and improve their skills.

“This scholarship was something Jason and I had talked about before he passed,” his wife Jennifer Riley Vega said. “We wanted to do something, but were not sure what. Music was his thing and he absolutely loved it.”

Funding for the scholarship was raised via donations to the school, as well as a collection taken up by TD Bank branches across the state. Vega is branch manager of the Houlton TD bank.

Earlier this week, bank officials presented the Houlton music department with a check in the amount of $2,000 to kick off the scholarship. Additional funds were pooled from donations made to the school in his memory.

TD Bank raised its funds by having employees donate money into jars for various things such as “jeans day” at work, while another employee donated New England Patriots game tickets to be raffled, Vega said.

“The TD family has been absolutely amazing,” she said. “They decided to support this cause on their own and I was blown away by their generosity.”

Anderson attended the Maine Summer Youth Music camp at UMO as a student, and returned as one of its instructors in adulthood. As choral director in Houlton, he was an integral part of putting together plays, concerts and show choirs at the school. He could often be found jumping in to fill parts in concerts and plays suddenly left vacant because a student was out sick.

Anderson’s commitment to the summer camps was so strong that instead of taking time off for a honeymoon when he married Jennifer Riley Vega in the summer of 2013, he went to instruct students at one of the music camps.

She said the kids spend a week in the dorms and participate in a variety of programs.

“Jason absolutely loved spending time with the students. So, I wanted to be sure the money went for that program,” she said.

To commemorate the bowtie he always wore, one of Anderson’s friends, Heather Olivieri, created wooden Christmas ornaments and is selling them online to raise additional funds for the scholarship.

A posting on Anderson’s death on the Maine Arts Commission website noted that he had become an integral part of the state’s performing and visual arts team, and an anchor for teachers across the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We enjoyed his upbeat, can-do attitude, and had a standing monthly meeting that led to a number of promising collaborations between our agency and the Department of Education,” the post said. “Generous with his time, knowledge and resources, he was eager to work together whenever he could to serve the field.”

Martha Piscuskas, MAC program director, who started her career with the agency at the same time Anderson began his position at the DOE, said his impact on the visual and performing arts will be sorely missed.

“We learned from and schemed with each other on the mundane, but important details, as well as strategies for supporting arts educators better together,” she said. “At the height of COVID, we co-created a pilot grant program for teaching artists to hold virtual school arts residencies and studio visits. We presented at schools and conferences together, shared ideas and served on each other’s committees.”

She added that as his health began to fail, he still wanted to hear about her work. She said he wanted to hear about her travels and kept reminding her to enjoy life as much as possible.

“I took that to heart. I will miss this lovely, thoughtful, kind and eager champion of arts education, and my friend,” Piscuskas said.

Those who would like to contribute to the music scholarship fund in Anderson’s memory may send donations to Houlton Middle Senior High School, in care of Kevin Mania, 7 Bird St., Houlton Maine 04730.