A Gift of Song

With a grant to Giving Voice, Marlene Hedberg’s family found the perfect way to honor her memory

Marlene Hedberg loved music. There were few things she enjoyed more than singing in her church choir, and her children have fond memories of her playing Christmas carols on the piano when they were young. Many years later, she loved singing to her grandchildren. And when her health declined and she began to lose her memory, singing hymns brought her peace of mind.

Marlene passed away last year, after living with dementia for a decade. Even at the end, music was there for her. “It was the one thing she had as the disease was taking her,” said her son, Jeremy. “She still always had that passion to try and sing.”

As Jeremy and his four sisters mourned, they honored their mother with charitable gifts in her memory. Jeremy and his wife, Tricia, recommended a grant from their fund at The Minneapolis Foundation to the Alzheimer’s Association, but the family also wanted to support a cause that reflected Marlene’s passions. They asked their Philanthropic Advisor for ideas, and Robyn Schein made a suggestion that turned out to be the perfect fit: a gift to the Giving Voice Initiative.

“If God himself had designed a charity for Mom, this would have been it,” Jeremy said. Giving Voice is a nonprofit that works with people with Alzheimer’s and their care partners, bringing them together to sing in choruses that foster joy, well-being and community understanding.

The Hedbergs knew from personal experience how difficult it can be for people with dementia to stay active and connected to their communities. “To have an organized activity that they can participate in on a regular basis—that makes a massive difference,” Jeremy said. He had also seen the powerful effect of music on the residents in the assisted living home where his mother spent her final years. “If you happened to visit on a day when a volunteer was playing the piano or a guitar, there was a different look on their faces.”

Giving Voice appealed to Jeremy and Trish for other reasons, too. “Both of us had a desire to give locally, especially to smaller organizations,” he said. But without The Minneapolis Foundation, they never would have found Giving Voice. “Good intentions aside, we wouldn’t have gone out and researched organizations.”

Especially since the Hedbergs wanted to make a substantial gift in Marlene’s memory, Robyn did the legwork for them to ensure that Giving Voice Chorus would make good use of it. Having that kind of support was one of the main reasons they opened a Donor Advised Fund in the first place, Jeremy said. While his family is blessed to have the resources to give generously, he said, “One of the things we’re kind of short on—especially with three kids—is time.”

Giving Voice is a small nonprofit, but the Hedbergs’ gift allowed the organization to dream big, said executive director Mary Lenard. “Their gift came at a time when we were deciding if we could perform at the Ordway Center in St. Paul, and their support made our decision to go for it.” That concert, called Love Never Forgets, was a beacon of hope, joy and dignity for those with Alzheimer’s and their families, she said. “Marlene would have loved it!”

Helping families like the Hedbergs give in ways that are both meaningful and impactful is why Robyn loves her work, she said. “It always feels really special when a family invites me to get to know them, and what’s important to them.”