Long before Anna Ross, outgoing executive director of AUI, ever heard of Audiences Unlimited (or Fort Wayne, Indiana, for that matter!) she was bringing the arts to unreached audiences in her home state of Pennsylvania as a young girl. “When I was 15,” she said, “we lived close enough to school for me to walk home.”

But instead of heading straight home, Anna marched right into the state hospital en route and, on her own initiative, asked the director if she could play music for the residents. “Each day, I was assigned a different age group,” she said. “I played the piano and interacted with residents.”

The hardest part of volunteering for Anna was when she played for kids her own age. “I was so sad, because I didn’t understand their diagnoses, and I felt bad that they were living in this place with no art on the walls.”

Years later, Anna experienced an opportunity to perform for unreached audiences again, only this time, it was much more personal. “A few months after I took the job at AUI,” she said, “I learned that my father, who lived in upstate New York, needed full-time nursing care.

“My biggest joy was bringing my instrument on my visits to see my dad,” she said. “I play viola, but you have to pay for a seat for a viola on the plane. My violin could fit in the overhead bin, so that’s what I brought. Each trip, I played for my father. He would request everything from Moon River to Bach. One day, my dad needed to rest, and he told me to go play for other people. ‘They need to hear you, too,’ he said.” He was right.

Once, Anna saw a person in wheelchair wheel up to the door frame and listen. “When I finished a piece, she said, ‘Beautiful,’ and wheeled back to her room. The nurses told me they were stunned to see this woman, who was from Russia, outside of her room. She always stayed in her room and never spoke.

“The classical music brought her out. You never know when you will impact someone. It was the last time I played for my father, and I knew it would be the last time. That opportunity brought me joy in the midst of my own grief, knowing I was giving to someone else.”

In her years leading AUI, Anna Ross facilitated many more opportunities for people to receive the blessing of the arts, and we’re so thankful for all the ways she has touch so many souls!

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