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Striking a Chord

Initial gifts have spurred preliminary planning for much-needed practice, performance, and rehearsal spaces for music students and faculty.

Portrait of Dee and Byron Cook

Striking a Chord

Byron and Dee Cook have made their second $1 million gift in the Empower Extraordinary campaign.

Their first gift created an endowment for the discretion of the Athletics Director.

Their latest gift is helping launch plans to build a new 35,000-square foot Music Pavilion and renovate another 8,500 square feet in the 1940s era Music Building and its neighboring Music Practice Building.

 “As the clock runs out on the campaign, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to make a second gift that is just as meaningful as the first,” says Dee, who serves as co-chair of the Empower Extraordinary campaign. “We are overwhelmed and thrilled to be part of the growth of two areas we love so much at MSU.”

Support for the College of Music reflects a connection that first resonated with the couple decades ago.

Dee was an MSU Trustee when Byron said, ‘I want to know where you see the greatest need around the university.’

Back in their student days, Dee sang in Big Bands, while Byron played trombone in the Spartan Marching Band. So it was natural that she began to talk about the needs in the College of Music.

Dee’s 16 years of service on the Board of Trustees ended in 2006, but the Cook connection to the College of Music is as strong as ever.

As loyal patrons and charter members of the College of Music’s National Leadership Council, they have long dreamed of a new building for the college. But they realized that was not going to be possible in the short term. So in 2011, they asked Jim Forger, dean of the College of Music, what—short of a whole new building—would have the most impact?

“Without blinking he said ‘we need to renovate the performance space for recitals because everyone uses it—students, faculty, visiting artists, and patrons,’” Byron recalls.

The beautifully transformed Cook Recital Hall opened in the fall of 2012 at the Music Building. It bears Byron and Dee Cook’s name in honor of their lead gift for the much-needed renovations. They believe seeing the impact of the recital hall on the performance life of the college helped jumpstart the new project.

“Byron and Dee Cook are true MSU ambassadors: they care for every corner of this great university.  Their passion for moving the potential of the College of Music to the next level in our community, in the state and nation, and on an international level has made a profound difference for our students, faculty and staff and for the next generations who will follow,” states Dean James Forger.  “Their leadership can not be underestimated.”

Several donors have joined the Cooks with support including James Billman Jr., Selma Hollander, and the late Ruth Charles. To date, nearly $9 million of the $17.5 fundraising goal has been reached.

“Neither Byron nor I ever dreamed as students that we would have the opportunity to be as connected to MSU and the College of Music as these projects make us,” says Dee.

Cook Recital Hall is already one of the most well-used and specialized facilities on campus. Now, the first floor of the future, sure-to-be-busy, pavilion also will bear the Cook name.

“We are tremendously grateful for the leadership and generosity of Byron and Dee Cook in helping to build our vibrant community,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “Their passion for musical excellence at MSU is having a transformative effect on the capabilities of the College of Music which will enrich the lives of others for generations.”

Dee, who graduated from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences in 1954, has long been a lead volunteer in MSU fundraising. She served on the board of the MSU Development Fund, was the national chairperson of special gifts for MSU’s $210 million campaign, MSU 2000: Access to Opportunity, and in The Campaign for MSU she served as campaign co-chair.

Byron co-founded Cook Investments and Southwestern Oil Company. He is a 1954 graduate of the College of Natural Science and received a JD in law from the University of Michigan.

The expansion and renovation of College of Music facilities, which received an “approval to plan” resolution from the MSU Board of Trustees in June 2017, will provide state-of-the-art practice, rehearsal and recital spaces for large and small ensembles, as well as studio teaching and audio technology spaces, and rooms for individual practice.

To explore options for naming opportunities in the Music Pavilion, contact Senior Director of Development, Rebecca Surian at or call (517) 353-9872.