A Talent For Connecting

Harrison Ponce ’18 with Kendal friends during his summer residency. 

With a double major in Chemistry and Music Performance, Harrison Ponce ’18, carved his own path at Denison. And his first experience after graduation became another unique fusion of his education, passion for the arts, and enthusiasm for working with people, which has launched a new program with opportunities for future Denison students. 

Ponce was in his senior year when Kendal at Granville, a local retirement community with many ties to Denison, decided to begin an artist-in-residence program during the summer of 2018. 

“We first got this idea of a university artist-in-residence program from another community,” explained Peggy Qualls, community relations manager for Kendal at Granville. “Our mentoring committee helped create a vision for developing an artist-in-residence program with the Denison fine arts departments, where we might invite a current or graduating student to come for the summer.” 

It was a winning proposition, and as it happened, Harrison Ponce was an ideal candidate: his enthusiasm for performance, his open curiosity and ability to think and talk about the meaning and impact of the arts, and his prior experience bringing music to an elderly audience helped him hit the ground running. 

“Since I was little, I’ve always been comfortable talking and spending time with older people, often preferring those interactions to ones with people my own age. This made becoming a part of Kendal very natural,” Ponce explains. The summer-length residency comes with a nice cottage to live in, meals, and a stipend for expenses from Denison’s Knowlton Center.

“I’d hate to be the second artist-in-residence,” kidded Virgil Hoftiezer, one of many Kendal residents who was eager to sing the praises of both Harrison and the program. The recent graduate dismisses any concerns about how the next artist-in-residence will do. “It will be different,” Ponce smiles, “because each one will bring new gifts and completely different perspectives to the program.”

“Harrison came in filled with ideas and energy,” said Larry Murdock, Registrar Emeritus at Denison and member of the Kendal mentoring committee. 

What began as a plan of once-weekly programs for the residents quickly turned into as many as 39 separate events, including concerts, Friday movie nights, and multi-disciplinary lectures and discussions. Musicians from Denison and Columbus performed with a range of instruments, and residents had a chance to experience the arts with their own hands through interactive workshops. Ponce was initially surprised by how the ideas for added events kept expanding with every interaction. He credits this to his education: “Denisonians are really good at assimilating into new environments, making connections, and forming something new from that.”

Conversations during meals together sparked other creative ideas for opportunities. Some were less directly connected to art than they were to available talent and enthusiasm, like starting a “German table” to learn and practice that language with Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages and Kendal resident John Kessler. Ponce’s younger brother, Remington Ponce ’21, also took part — he had just finished his first year at Denison as a German and physics double major. As a sophomore now, he continues to be a regular visitor to Dr. Kessler, his teacher and now good friend. 

Ponce feels he learned even more than he was able to share — from quilting, designing, and painting with artist Jane Heller ’49 to Saturday night bocce ball tournaments with his Kendal neighbors. His experience as an artist-in-residence has helped build his resume and contacts, which helped to give him some post-graduation breathing room while he took his next career steps. 

Ponce at piano, Kendal.

As a non-profit provider of residential communities for senior living, Kendal’s values and practices have much in common with Denison’s, including philosophies of lifelong learning, sustainability, strong relationships and helping people to reach their full potential. 

There’s also a significant overlap in shared population from both communities — many of Kendal’s residents are Denison alumni, retired staff and emeritus faculty, or connected through Denison relationships. 

Kendal’s Peggy Qualls has studied the data indicating very strong benefits in connecting senior housing communities in the U.S. to universities, and she’s not surprised. “From the beginning, Denison and Kendal have been so closely connected that it really makes sense to promote the relationship,” she says. “We’re looking forward to experiencing  the many benefits between both campuses in the months and years ahead!” 

The experience for both Ponce and Kendal was so successful that there have been talks between Denison and Kendal to develop a more wide-ranging collaborative agreement.  By sharing each other’s programming and facilities, there will be more opportunities and intergenerational experiences for both Kendal residents and Denison students. 

December 4, 2018