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Koks honored during November reception

The University of Maine at Presque Isle hosted a special reception on Nov. 3 – including the surprise unveiling of a granite table and benches in front of Wieden Hall – to honor two long-time members of the UMPI community for their decades of service.

Jan and Evelyn Kok came to UMPI in 1952 when it was known as the Aroostook State Teachers College to serve, respectively, as a music professor and a librarian. Jan Kok came to the school with a Master’s degree from Harvard University, and Evelyn Kok was trained as an artist and medical illustrator. During their many years working and living in northern Maine, the two touched many lives.

They were both members of the Presque Isle Recorder Consort and were always eager to share their love of music by visiting local elementary schools. Jan Kok also established the musical groups the Hilltop Carolers and the Ren-Bar (for Renaissance-Baroque), and for more than half a century has been involved in the Kiwanis Talent Revue.During the Nov. 3 reception attended by scores of UMPI officials, community members and Kiwanians, remarks were delivered by President Don Zillman, Faculty Emeritus Richard Kimball, and Presque Isle Kiwanis Club member Craig Green, followed by a musical performance to the song “The Lovers’ Waltz” by Bruce and Amy Wilkins.

A surprise highlight of the event was the unveiling of a granite table and benches outside the main entrance of Wieden Hall. The gift was made by Christina Shipps, the niece of Jan and Evelyn Kok. Shipps, a Patten businesswoman, said that ever since she was a little girl, her aunt and uncle “were always magic.” They would visit her family’s house in the Boston area during the holidays and pull out instrument after instrument from their car. She said it wasn’t truly Christmas until her aunt and uncle had filled their house with music. Shipps saw the installation as a very fitting way to honor them, their dedication to the campus, and their love of music.

The inscription on the table reads:
Jan Kok
Professor Emeritus of Musician
Evelyn Kok
For their dedication to the UMPI Campus
“Let there be Music…”

In addition to the granite table and benches, Shipps also made a generous donation to start a fund in her aunt and uncle’s names that will help to bring performing artists and musicians to campus each year. Following all of these honors, the Koks rose to say a few words.

“This is absolutely dumbfounding,” Jan Kok said. “It’s astonishing that this event was held a secret from us until now.”

Instead of traditional remarks, the Koks offered up music. Together, they sang several songs from the University’s past, including the school hymn, the school song and the fight song.

“We are indebted to all of you for this incredible surprise,” Evelyn Kok said.

She said if only she’d known what this event was all about, she would have brought a bookmark for everybody to take home with them. She has a small press that she uses to print her own collectible calendars and bookmarks, which she sells in her shop in Stonington each summer. She told the crowd that she will have a bookmark waiting for each of them; all they have to do is come and collect it.

But that’s the Koks through and through – even when they’re being honored with a gift, their desire is to give.