In 1985 when he was a Doctor of Music student at Indiana University, Stuart Marrs learned that the University of Maine wanted to hire him as professor of music. He and his wife, Gianna Marrs, were thrilled. Gianna had visited the state of Maine and fallen in love with it. Stuart grew up in rural New Jersey and moving to New England felt like a homecoming.
More than 20 years later, Stuart, associate provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, and Gianna, associate director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, are as delighted as ever to be part of the UMaine community.
“I wake up every morning and count my blessings that I landed the job at UMaine,” says Stuart, percussion specialist, conductor and soloist who also served as chair of UMaine’s Music Division.
Given their enthusiasm about UMaine, it’s no surprise that the couple has chosen to support a number of university initiatives.
“UMaine needs the help and we want to contribute in whatever way we can,” says Gianna, a former professional violinist who earned a master’s degree in education at UMaine in 1988.
“We’re here because we believe in public higher education and the accessibility and affordability it offers.”
Stuart adds, “UMaine is an important entity in our state with a huge impact on economic development and on the artistic and intellectual environments. Every dollar contributed to UMaine goes a long way.”
He knows first-hand the ways that UMaine benefits the state and its residents.
With help from the university’s Target Technology Incubator program, which stimulates the growth of new business in Maine by assisting in the commercialization of university-based research and supporting the development of new technologies in the private sector, Stuart was able to launch GudMuse (www.GudMuse.com). The company combines the study of classical performances with cutting edge technology, enabling students to explore music in a detailed and analytical way.
“What began as a research project launched during a sabbatical leave, with the help of many university resources associated with the Target Technology Incubator, has developed into a viable production company, contributing to the Maine economy,” says Stuart. “UMaine’s vision was clear in its intent to translate the world of ideas that abound in a university setting to the world of business. I am pleased they saw this potential in an artistic project.”
One of the couple’s favorite causes is the Maine Center for the Arts – soon to be known as the Richard R. and Anne A. Collins Center for the Arts – where they frequently attend concerts, operas and other musical events. Located on the UMaine campus, the facility is a cultural destination for residents of eastern, central and northern Maine. Aiming to support the MCA’s renovation project, which will be completed in 2009, Stuart and Gianna named seats in Hutchins Hall after their parents. David and Gretchen Felix, Gianna’s father and mother, encouraged their daughter’s love of the violin. Stuart’s parents, Donald and Goldie Marrs, were music educators who inspired his devotion to teaching.
“A symbolic gift like this means so much,” says Gianna. “This was the best gift we could give them. Music and the arts play such an important role in all of our lives.”
In fact, it was music that brought Stuart and Gianna together!
The couple met in 1974 as members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica. Stuart was timpanist and principal percussionist and Gianna – who originally came to Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer – played violin. They took to each other right away.
“I knew a good thing when I saw it,” says Stuart.
After the couple returned to the U.S., Stuart enrolled at Indiana University School of Music where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees. Three years later he and Gianna received word that UMaine wanted him on its faculty.
Today, the couple enjoy their jobs and their relationships with students and colleagues.
As associate director in the busy Student Financial Aid Office, Gianna administers federal, state and university aid programs as well as the many alumni scholarships that help UMaine students finance their education, Gianna says she likes “seeing the impact these scholarships have on students.
“I also like working with the senior alumni and with the University of Maine Alumni Association. It’s fabulous to see the loyalty of these folks who have graduated years ago and really understand the significance of a college education.”
For his part, Stuart says he “gains a tremendous satisfaction by serving the university.
“I know that what I’m doing is ultimately benefitting Mainers throughout the state.”
Image Description: Stuart and Gianna Marrs at Acadia National Park