Scholarship Alumni News

Scholarship Alumni News

Since 1964 WFAA has awarded annual scholarships to graduating seniors in McHenry County who plan to use their artistic gifts in the performing, visual or literary arts in a career or to enrich their lives.

Alexander Riak
2014 ~ Music Composition

As a recipient of the Woodstock Fine Arts Association Scholarship, Alexander Riak (Illinois Wesleyan University 2018 and Columbia College Chicago 2020) shares this update: I was asked to conduct a composition of mine at the award ceremony and had the pleasure of meeting other young artists who also showcased their work. I had many inspiring conversations with them about their work and, coincidentally, even made a few, new friends that were going to the same university as me. On that day, not only was my love for composition cemented forever, but my appreciation for the arts and the impact that it can have on a young student's life. I am now (2024) writing music for films and media in Los Angeles and still hold an immense appreciation for the additional opportunities and friendships that the scholarship was able to afford me.

Jocelyn Reyes
2021 ~ Clarinet

A 2021 graduate of McHenry East High School, Jocelyn is a student at Duke University, double-majoring in evolutionary anthropology and biology and minoring in music. She is a member of the Duke University Wind Symphony, the Duke University Marching Band, and takes lessons from clarinet instructor Jimmy Gilmore.

“Receiving the Woodstock Fine Arts Association scholarship impacted my freshman year greatly as it allowed me to get the equipment I needed for lessons during the semester. The scholarship helped me feel secure and prepared for my freshman year. Staying involved in music has kept me grounded and has connected me to a community of outstanding and caring musicians in the area,” Jocelyn said.

Hannah Gillespie
2016 ~ Piano

A 2016 graduate of Marian Central Catholic High School, Hannah is a 2023 winner of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship. Gillespie, of Johnsburg, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2020 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a Minor in Theology. After her freshman year, she received a summer research grant to develop a robotic proxy for remote physician palpation as part of the MOTION Project, a three-year £1.2 million research project with the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London. Through the Kellogg International Scholars Program at Notre Dame, she led a human-centered design thinking project in Léogâne Haiti to co-create an all-natural biosand filter distributed within the framework of a social enterprise. Following two summer internships and a rotational program at Boeing, Hannah currently works as an Autonomous Systems Engineer for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle, WA. She also serves as the treasurer on the board of directors for Ascend NW, a Catholic non-profit in the Pacific Northwest. As a Marshall Scholar, Hannah will pursue an MSc degree in Computing at Imperial College London and an MSc degree in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics.

Jonathan Zoia
2015 ~ Saxophone

A Woodstock High School and 2019 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate, Jonathan will be returning to U of I to earn a Master of Science in Financial Engineering from the College of Engineering. He holds degrees in finance and accounting with minors in music and the Hoeft Technology and Management Program. He plans to continue to combine his three passions: technology, business, and music.

Jonathan has been the director of music at the Catholic church on campus, and studied classical saxophone in the studio of Professor Debra Richtmeyer. Recreationally, he loves hanging out with his friends and having jam sessions. Jonathan has performed with the Woodstock City Band on Wednesdays evenings in the historic Woodstock Square for several summers.

According to Jonathan, obtaining a diverse education is of the utmost importance. Having the ability to “bridge the gap” between music and his academic studies has yielded immense growth in his personal and professional life.

Sarah Mondello
2014 ~ Writing

It feels like just yesterday I was giving my first reading—an excerpt from my historical fiction story “The Kiss of Death”—on the historic Woodstock Opera House stage for the WFAA scholarship award ceremony. Audience members approached me afterwards at the reception clamoring to know what happened next. I jokingly told them they would have to wait until it was a published book! Little did I know that only seven months later, on Christmas Eve, I would be offered my first contract with a publisher for that very story.

Six months later my book was released through Kellan Publishing under the pen name “Sarah Natale” (my first and middle name).

Since then, I have worked as my own publicist, organizing and hosting public speaking engagements at libraries, schools, book clubs, and bookstores such as Barnes & Noble in the Chicago suburbs. I deliver a prepared educational presentation about my experiences navigating the publishing industry at a young age. Additionally, given its historical content, my story lends itself to classroom discussion. The supplementary Educator Guide I created, correlated to Common Core Curriculum national education standards, has served as a helpful resource for Chicagoland teachers.

In May 2018, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Drake University with degrees in Writing, Public Relations, and Graphic Design. A few highlights include serving as a writing tutor, working as an acquisitions editor for Periphery Art & Literary Journal, and writing and designing for a creative satire magazine. I also participated in a nonfiction book release from start to finish over the course of two years as an editorial and publicity intern at Drake Community Press. PR News awarded me second place for 2017 PR Intern of the Year. In December 2017, I received the international award at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

I’m currently at work on my next novel–a sequel–and pursuing the second half of my two-fold career as a book publishing professional in the Chicago suburbs. You can learn more about The Kiss of Death (Kellan Publishing, 2015) and my literary endeavors at

Kurt Carlson
2003 ~ Vocal Performance

Kurt attended Monmouth College where he specialized in music history research. He accepted a graduate position at Butler University and went on to win several awards for his work with late-eighteenth-century Viennese music and politics. In 2013 Kurt was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to Austria and worked in Viennese archives and with traditional music choirs in Carinthia. Following his return to the United States Kurt began a doctoral program in musicology at Florida State University and will achieve the PhD in 2019. Kurt currently lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife Mary and their dog Sydney. He continues to perform regularly with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and on stage in the Lehigh Valley.

Michelle Hackman
1995 ~ Vocal Performance

Michelle has been teaching voice and performing professionally in the Chicagoland area since 2001. Graduates of her studio have gone on to study and to major in musical theatre, vocal performance, music education, the music business, music therapy, and vocal-jazz performance at many of the most prestigious colleges in the country, including NYU, Berklee, Emerson, Belmont, and Northwestern.

Many of her students are award-winning singers receiving acknowledgements from The Schmidt Competition, Classical Singer Vocal Competition, Woodstock Fine Arts Association Helen Wright Scholarship Program—most recently Nathan Ancheta 2019, Emma Soden 2018, and Corey Barlow and Haley Gustafson 2017—and numerous college talent scholarships.

Her students have auditioned for and participated in some of the most prestigious summer programs in the world, including The High-School Music Theater and classical vocalist programs at Interlochen, ISYM (lllinois Summer Youth Music), The Performing Arts Project, Oberlin Vocal Performance Program, and Tanglewood Young Artist's Program through Boston University.

Ms. Hackman is an award-winning performer herself, including an acknowledgment from the Metropolitan Opera Awards. She enjoys performing primarily opera and musical-theatre and holds a BFA and MFA from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Martin McCormack
1981~ Vocal performance

Back in 1981, after finishing my evening chores on our small farm out on Rose Farm Road, I would put the seventh album of the world famous musical ensemble The Chieftains on the record player. I would listen to their traditional Irish melodies and psych myself up for the next day’s cross-country invitational race.

Their music was my secret weapon, allowing me to come up with the pace that could keep me going in the pack with the other fellows who were considerably longer legged and better suited to the grueling sport.

When I received the Woodstock Fine Arts Association’s Scholarship, I never would have thought that opportunity and validation of my musical talent would lead me to one day walk out on stage with the very band that I listened to as a kid.

I now am friends with The Chieftains flautist, Matt Malloy, and have played at his famous pub in Westport, County Mayo, Ireland. I also have shared in his personal life, having recently played a memorial service for his late wife. We exchange emails, and when I can I join him on stage.

As a member of the band Switchback I have accomplished and continue to accomplish many things on the musical stage.

I wish to point out that had I not received the support and encouragement through the Woodstock Fine Arts Association my life could’ve taken a very different path.

I am very proud to be from Woodstock, Illinois. For me, it will always be my hometown. And I am grateful to the WFAA.

I feel that one can only go as far as those who wish to see him or her succeed.  WFAA is crucial in cultivating and preserving the artistic legacy that is the spirit of Woodstock.  Many talented and gifted artists continue to come from our beloved town, thanks to the WFAA’s support. And in turn, these artists bring Woodstock to the world.