Front and back design of the Shenandoah Valley T-shirts at the SAA Conference

Dr. Douglas L. Turpin, Director of the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative, received his doctorate from Washington University in Saint Louis and B.S. from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He served as Director of the Whitaker Music Education Collaborative (1996-1998) and Director of the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative (1998- present) at the University of Missouri St. Louis. Before coming to the University, he served as Coordinator of Fine Arts for the Parkway School District, located in west St. Louis County (1972-1996) It is in this capacity as the Fine Arts Coordinator of the Parkway School District that Doug was nominated for the SAA Community Learning Awards.

In the early 70s, the Parkway School District String Program was a stable, successful, never the less small program but Fine Arts Coordinator Doug Turpin had a vision. He believed that “String programs are the measure of success in music programs, and Suzuki education is the way to build a string program!” In 1972, Doug began a pilot Suzuki program in seven elementary schools with teachers Marti Steiger and Joy Pierce.

Shortly thereafter parents insisted that Suzuki violin be offered in all elementary schools across the district. Violin instruction was offered to all third graders with an option to study Suzuki viola, cello and bass as well, in fourth grade through high school. As the program grew so did the enrollment. The district string enrollment grew from 300 students in the early 70s to over 4,500 annually. To date, thousands of students in Parkway schools have studied strings using the Suzuki approach because of the vision of this man.

“Turpin,” as he is fondly called, is a trumpet-playing ex-Marine, who believes in Suzuki education with all of his heart. Intense, persistent, focused and driven, Doug barks orders like a drill sergeant. A watch dog for the string program, Doug found instruments during budget cuts and found staffing money when there was none. Doug would not hire a teacher unless they had serious Suzuki training and would grill the candidate throughout the interview to determine such. The faculty were all a little bit afraid, but we knew there was love and respect behind the bluster. Doug always took our arrows and shunned the praise. “People make programs and I have great people.” His work allowed his teachers and students to flourish.

Since his retirement from Parkway, Doug has taken his vision to a broader community as the Director of the Whitaker Foundation and as the Director of the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative, developing a myriad of projects throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area.

When told that he would be the recipient of this award, Doug quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

The following are Doug’s remarks in response to receiving this award.

“These words were true for me throughout my forty years of service to teachers and students. I surrounded myself with the best teachers that I could find, for I realized that people, not curricula, documents, nor any form of forced educational process or reasoned doctrine would make for successful programs. The teachers in the Parkway School District believed in me, supported and sustained me, and I tried hard not to let them down. It would be difficult to duplicate the good feeling and selflessness that existed between the various members of the faculty. It was truly an assembly of exceptional people. Thank you for this tremendous honor.”

Some of Doug’s Past Honors and Awards include:

  • Art and Education Council of Saint Louis: Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award
  • Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra: Art Educator of the Year
  • University of St. Louis: Deans Award for Lifetime Service to Education
  • Missouri Music Educators Association: Hall of Fame
  • Saint Louis Suburban Music Educators: Hall of Fame Award
  • Missouri American String Teachers Association: Distinguished Service Award
  • St. Louis Suburban Music Educators Association: Music Educator of the Year Award
  • Parkway School District: Pillar of Parkway Award

Presented by Winifred Crock, Parkway Teacher and Chair of the SAA Suzuki in the Schools Committee

Many thanks for the special performance given in honor of Douglas Turpin by the Shenandoah Valley School (Parkway District) Honors Orchestra, Loren Abramson, Conductor.