For Dr. Irene Bettinger, the job of giving away money is a privilege, as she gets to choose projects of great consequence in keeping with her parents’ final wishes.
Edwina and Paul Heller, a UBC pianist and BC lumber mill owner, were great supporters of music, education and Vancouver’s Jewish community. Having fled Europe shortly after the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, Poland, they eventually settled in Vancouver, their home for more than 70 years. To build on her parents’ many contributions to the city, Dr. Bettinger decided to up the ante: In addition to existing scholarships, she allotted $710,000 from her parents’ estate to create UBC fellowships in opera, forestry and medicine.
“My mother loved people and my father loved education, so creating fellowships made perfect sense,” says Dr. Bettinger, who wanted to build up areas of strength at UBC. “Medicine, the arts, forestry, and helping young people get a better education—all these things they would have loved.”
By following these guiding principles as executor of the Heller estate, Dr. Bettinger continues the family heritage of generosity, though she is quick to point out that the money is not hers: “This is my parents’ story. Philanthropy was very important to them—it is considered a responsibility in the Jewish community to take care of others.”
Creating awards for talented young singers made perfect sense to Dr. Bettinger. Her parents were ardent supporters of the arts in Vancouver and particularly enjoyed attending the opera. They held season tickets to the Vancouver Opera, and Mr. Heller attended shows until the age of 101.
In memory of her mother—who taught piano at UBC (1960-1964) and was a patron of the Vancouver Recital Society—Dr. Bettinger allotted $200,000 (over 10 years) from the Heller estate to establish the Edwina Heller Memorial Award in Opera, which supports two outstanding singers in UBC’s renowned opera training program each year.
“Opera is a competitive industry. We are so grateful for these generous awards, which will help students take advantage of opportunities—like private coaching sessions, masterclasses and competitions—to land coveted roles on stages around the world,” says Nancy Hermiston, head of the voice and opera divisions.
With the inaugural awards, soprano Nicole Brooks and bass Geoffrey Schellenberg hope to join the ranks of opera stars like UBC alumni Ben Heppner (BMus’79, LLD’97) and Judith Forst (BMus’65, DLitt‘91).