By Dave Hart
The Chapel Hills News
Wednesday, August 15, 2001
CHAPEL HILL — When Albert and Sue Jenkins returned to Raleigh from a long trip out of town in the summer of 1998, they were delighted to find that a great deal of progress had been made toward construction of the North Carolina Symphony's new concert hall in the BTI Center for the Performing arts.
But one thing, they thought, was glaringly wrong: Nowhere in the plans did the name "Swalin" appear.
"We thought,'This cannot happpen,'" said Sue Jenkins, who with her husband is a longtime supporter and volunteer with the symphony. "We thought that was unacceptable to do this without any acknowledgement of the Swalins' name. And when you become really concerned about something, you take it upon yourself to start to do something about it."
So they did. The fruits of that effort will come to pass on Oct. 13, with the dedication in the Meymandi Concert Hall of the Swalin Lobby and its centerpiece, a large bronze sculpture of Benjamin and Maxine Swalin.
"I was very surprised when they told me they wanted to do this," said Maxine Swalin, a remarkably robust and active 98-year old Chapel Hillian whose husband Benjamin died in 1989. "Dr. Albert and Sue are wonderful friends. They love the symphony, and they've been very appreciative of the educational aspects of what we've tried to do. They just thought the Swalin name should be remembered."
Benjamin and Maxine founded the modern new North Carolina Symphony — an earlier incarnation had dissolved after just three years — and guided its evolution from an early shoestring-budget outfit that traveled the state playing in gyms, cafeterias and school auditoriums, to its establishment as the nation's first state symphony.
"Governor Terry Sanford said it best," Sue Jenkins said. "He said, 'But for Ben Swalin,the North Carolina Orchestra would not be. But for Maxine, Ben would not have prevailed.' It's just that simple. Without them, there would be no symphony."
The Swalins came to Chapel Hill in 1935 so Benjamin could take a post with the UNC music faculty. He hadn't been here long before he'd conceived a proposal to resurrect the symphony.
He, along with a handful of others, borrowed $200 from the Chapel Hill Bank, scraped together a group of musicians from various places, and on March 16, 1940, the new North Carolina Symphony Orchestra gave its first public concert at Raleigh's Meredith College.
Three years later, after hard lobbying by Swalin and others, the state legislature passed what was known as the "Horn Tootin' Bill," which established the symphony, orchestra as a state institution.
Benjamin served as director and conductor until 1979, and Maxine's tasks were legion: she played piano and harpsichord; coordmated concert venues and performances times; kept up the symphony's correspondence, evaluated performances; provided priceless moral, musical and organizational support;