Classical music fan bequeaths $3M to NEPM: Systems engineer, TM member died a year ago

New England Public Media headquarters on Hampden Street in Springfield.

New England Public Media headquarters on Hampden Street in Springfield. NEPM WEBSITE

Walter Wolnik, right, and his personal care attendant, Kevin Collins, singing “Hello Dolly” as part of a daily routine. Wolnik, who died in September of 2022, recently left $3 million to New England Public Media.

Walter Wolnik, right, and his personal care attendant, Kevin Collins, singing “Hello Dolly” as part of a daily routine. Wolnik, who died in September of 2022, recently left $3 million to New England Public Media. Submitted Photo

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-17-2023 6:00 PM

AMHERST — A late Amherst resident who spent overnights listening to classical music has bequeathed $3 million to New England Public Media, the largest gift ever received by the nonprofit organization based in Springfield.

Walter J. Wolnik, who died at 76 on Sept. 20, 2022, was an avid gardener and a longtime Town Meeting member after moving to Amherst from Newton in 2000.

NEPM will use the money to continue to present classical music on the radio in western Massachusetts, with a specific focus on access to classical music overnight.

“We are honored by the trust that Walter Wolnik has placed in us with this wonderful gift,” Matt Abramovitz, president of NEPM, said in a statement. “A gift of this magnitude not only has a significant impact on our organization for many years to come, but truly benefits the entire classical community.”

Wolnik was born and raised in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield, where he attended high school before graduating from Harvard University in 1969. Wolnik then studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, becoming a systems programming consultant for labs at several hospitals in the Boston area, and spent a significant portion of time researching and managing his investments.

Never married, Wolnik had a strong bond with his nieces, Susan Jongeneel and Cindy Peters, throughout his life.

“He was very smart, he was shy, and he moved carefully around people, but this did not prevent him from being involved in his community,” Jongeneel said. “He was a very good and decent person.”

“To know Mr. Wolnik believed deeply enough in NEPM, our mission, and our people, to invest in the organization in the way he did is truly inspiring,” said Patrick Carpenter, senior director of development for NEPM. “We are honored to be a part of his legacy, and we look forward to stewarding the funds and intentions he entrusted to us at the very highest level possible.”

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Earlier this fall, NEPM moved to strengthen its classical radio offering by launching Classical NEPM, a 24-hour service. With this launch, NEPM now offers three times more music to classical fans via the four former NEPM News Network stations, with hosts John Nowacki, Steve Petke and Jon Solins.

Classical NEPM also does live broadcasts from Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and has new programs including “Performance Today,” “Symphony Cast” and “The New York Philharmonic This Week.”

Classical NEPM airs full time on four local stations, 91.9 FM in Hampden County, 91.7 FM in Franklin County, 89.5 FM in Southern Berkshire County, and 98.9 FM in Northern Berkshire County. Classical NEPM is also on 89.3 FM in Hampshire County when Amherst College student programming is not on the air. Classical NEPM is streaming via smart speaker, at classicalnepm.org, in the new Classical NEPM app, and on 88.5 FM HD-2.