Turning Loss into Lasting Legacy

Katelyn Oliver

No parent can fathom losing a child, and while turning that kind of sorrow into something constructive may seem insurmountable, that is just what Terryl and Mike Oliver have done in honor of their daughter, Katelyn.

Katelyn Rae Oliver died in 2021 at age 34. In her memory, her parents set up an endowment fund through the East Tennessee Foundation (ETF) that will offer the joy of music to children in perpetuity.

The Olivers said their daughter was always drawn to music. She played in Karns’ middle and high school bands and then joined the choir at Pellissippi State Community College. Katelyn played percussion, piano and guitar.

“She played gigs around Knoxville and sometimes she’d even invite me up to sing with her and that was really my favorite thing to do,” her mother, Terryl Oliver, said. “Not long after losing Katelyn, we realized we wanted to do something positive in her name and her memory so that something good would come from what was to us a tragedy.”

With the help of ETF, the parents created the Katelyn Oliver Memorial Opportunity Fund for Music and Music Education. The fund will help support the mission of the Joy of Music School, a local nonprofit that offers free music education to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity or access to learn.

Grant funds from the Katelyn Oliver Memorial Opportunity Fund for Music and Music Education will be awarded to Joy of Music School annually beginning in 2025. The opportunity fund is one of several ETF endowments that support the Joy of Music School.

The Joy of Music School Executive Director Francis Graffeo said ETF’s designated funds offer kids special opportunities that the school couldn’t provide otherwise, such as money to audition or attend summer camp.

For example, Graffeo said ETF grants helped the Joy of Music School send a student to a prestigious jazz camp to study piano with faculty members from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, where they later encouraged the young man to apply.

“We sent him to audition, and he became the first ever to be awarded a four-year jazz piano scholarship to the Hartt School of Music, where he graduated before getting his master’s degree from Juilliard, also on scholarship,” Graffeo said.

That young man, Taber Gable, is now a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Music, putting the love of music back into this community, all because of the East Tennessee Foundation and the generosity of donors. That is just one example of opportunities supported by designated funds, which benefit a specific nonprofit.

The Olivers said they didn’t know much about endowments, but after talking with ETF, it made sense to work with an organization that would handle the management, investment and distribution of funds. The Olivers even asked about the future of the fund if something happened to the school.

“They explained to us that the ETF board will then go back to the original intent of the gift agreement and look for a similar nonprofit,” Terryl Oliver said. “Maybe it wouldn’t be the Joy of Music School anymore, but her name would always go on and kids in our area who might not have had the chance to participate in music would get that chance, so something good is coming from our loss.”

To donate to the Katelyn Oliver Memorial Opportunity Fund for Music and Music Education, click here.

To learn more about leaving a lasting legacy, call the East Tennessee Foundation at 865-524-1223 or visit