A Life of Laughter and Music
Cal State East Bay alumna leaves legacy gift to music department
In the early 1970s, when Cal State East Bay was CSU Hayward, and tie-dye and bell-bottom clad students filled the quad, MaryAnnette Venti was a musician and class comedian known and loved by many.
Now, just a year after succumbing to a long battle with cancer, her legacy lives on thanks to a gift to the university and its music students.
“A gift this significant will allow us to support our music students in the form of scholarships and program initiatives,” said Music Department Chair Buddy James. “Music tends to be one of the most expensive degrees on a university campus, and this gift will support many students in future years.”
Mariko Abe, a longtime assistant in the Music Department at Cal State East Bay and friend of Venti’s, said as a student at then-CSU Hayward, Venti was well-known for bringing different people together.
“When you have that many individuals together, there’s always going to be differences in personalities … MaryAnette had this wonderful way of instilling this sense of community and collaboration among her fellow students,” Abe said. “She would tease people … but if you happened to be the subject of her jabs as I often was, it was never an insult; we always knew that if you were the subject of her jokes, she was doing it out of sheer affection for you.”
As part of the band program, Venti and others would travel around California recruiting new students and playing at various venues, including Disneyland.
“Those long bus rides together were where a lot of people would get to know one another, and we just had a wonderful time together,” Abe said.
An avid sports fan, if Venti wasn’t spending time with friends in the Music Department, she was nearby at the P.E. department.
“[She had] energy galore, so much energy,” Abe said. “And when you look at photos of her, you can see her infectious smile, and you can still see that sense of humor, that audacious, almost wicked sense of humor … oh, she was a total riot.”
After graduating from CSU Hayward, Venti joined the Mount Diablo Unified School District in 1976, where she taught music to elementary and middle school students for more than 35 years. She was also involved in the Diablo Valley Chorus and played clarinet for the Contra Costa Musical Theater and the Diablo Light Opera Company, and conducted for the Brentwood Community Theater orchestra.
“When you hear from her students, they often talk about how she instilled in them a lifelong love of music and the arts and how she inspired them to always work their hardest and attain their best no matter what level they were,” Abe said. “She felt that we as teachers should be the adults that we as individuals wished we had as students.”
According to James, a primary obstacle for Cal State East Bay music students, in particular, is being able to afford school while pursuing a time-intensive degree. He said Venti’s gift would help the department increase scholarship opportunities to ensure they can continue studying despite any financial hardships they may face. In addition, James is hopeful the department will be able to invest in equipment that will help prepare students for work as professional musicians after graduation.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology in all of our lives and we are working to keep our technology equipment up to date and relevant for our students so they are ready for the professional challenges they will face after leaving university,” he said.
The department is also looking forward to adding to its musical instrument collection in an effort to diversify its offerings and work toward a more inclusive program.
“We are also working to align directly with the mission of Cal State East Bay, and incorporating music from the cultures of our students is a primary initiative for our faculty,” James said. “We hope to expand our outstanding western instrument collection to include instruments from around the world.”
Abe said she wasn’t surprised to hear Venti left a gift to the university and Music Department upon her death. She hopes it will serve as a reminder of the legacy Venti leaves and her passion and love for both the study of music and the students who dedicate their lives to composing, performing, and everything in between.
“The Music Department really holds a special place in the hearts of many students and alumni … the sense of accomplishment and respect of music that we developed as students is a feeling that stays with us for the rest of our lives,” Abe said. “The program is very challenging and rigorous, and there are times when you feel like it’s sink or swim … but throughout the time that I was there, I could feel this very strong camaraderie among the students and the support that is offered by both the students and staff, you just don’t see that everywhere.”