GREENSBORO — Soon after becoming president of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra 20 years ago, Lisa Crawford received a sizable gift from a woman she didn’t know.

Lillian Rauch, who had grown up in New York during the Great Depression, recalled in her letter how classical music had enriched her life since childhood.

“She wanted to pass this experience on, so that the underserved children in our community could experience the power that music provides,” Crawford said.

Rauch included a check for $20,000 to buy instruments.

That gift from Rauch started the symphony’s Lillian Rauch Beginning Strings Program, providing instruments and music lessons at five local elementary schools.

Rauch died Tuesday at age 94 from congestive heart failure and kidney failure, according to her obituary.

But thanks to her initial gift and her endowment, the program that bears her name continues at Peck and Cone elementary schools.

“She had a big heart and was a good soul,” said Crawford, who became a good friend and often visited Rauch at the Well-Spring retirement community.

Rauch is survived by sons Alan and Lowell, daughter Carol, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Her husband, Al, died in 2007.

Her funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Temple Emanuel, 1129 Jefferson Road in Greensboro.

According to an article in the Greensboro News & Record in 2000, Lillian Rauch grew up in the Bronx, at a time when money was hard to come by.

Yet her mother found ways to keep her family entertained. Free orchestra concerts in Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25-cent opera at Lewisohn Stadium and other economical entertainment was plentiful in the New York City of the 1930s.

“Although I very much wanted to play an instrument, my folks couldn’t afford it,’’ Rauch said back then. “But my mother introduced me to music. She had the old (Enrico) Caruso records. She took me to the opera, the museums, the concert halls.’’

She met and married Al Rauch. After his service in the Army Air Forces, they moved from New York to Greensboro in 1946.

They purchased a photography studio that grew into Carolina Camera Center, which operated in the city for more than 50 years. They and their family became well-established in the Jewish community.

She was an astute businesswoman. Starting in the early 1970s, her obituary said, she acquired lucrative rental properties.

In addition to the Greensboro Symphony, she supported the Eastern Music Festival and participated in the Greensboro Opera Companions. She donated to human rights causes and to llocal charities.

“Lillian was a loyal and kind EMF supporter,” said Chris Williams, its executive director.

Martha Chandler, a former symphony board member, remembered Rauch shipping a piano to a son while he was in medical school overseas.

“That told me then how important she thought music was to everyone,” Chandler said.

With Rauch’s $20,000 check and help from United Way, the symphony started after-school strings programs at five schools.

Eventually, funding from United Way left, Crawford said. But Rauch continued to give to keep the program alive.

The symphony eventually started a partnership with UNCG under the leadership of Rebecca McLeod. Students study violin, cello and viola in eight classes a week at Peck and Cone elementary schools.

The program continues because Rauch set up an endowment to make sure the teachers could be paid. First Bank matches it, as part of the bank’s community outreach program, Crawford said.

Rauch remained involved with the strings students in other ways.

“One year, she bought special white concert shirts for everyone so that they could wear them at their next concert,” Crawford said. “She arranged for them to play at Well-Spring for the residents and tried to attend any of their performances.”

Rauch will be missed greatly, Crawford said. But her gift lives on.

“The Lillian Rauch Beginning Strings Program will continue in perpetuity,” Crawford said, “and will provide music lessons to hundreds of children every year due to her foresight and generosity.”

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Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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