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2004 Distinguished Alumni Award Winner Karen Ambs

Karen Ambs planned to be a doctor. The idea that she could actually make a career of music didn't occur to her until Jan McRee, her school and church choir director, encouraged her to follow her heart. The medical community may have lost a doctor, but the music world gained an educator, one who has shared her passion for making music with hundreds of students over the years and whose accomplishments led to her being named the Michigan Music Educator of the Year in 2003 and Lansing Community College Distinguished Alumni of the Year for 2004.

Karen was born and raised in Eaton Rapids. After graduation, she enrolled at LCC as a music major. She says now, "I soaked up everything I could at LCC. I was in several choral groups, worked as a student aide in the music office, took voice lessons from Debbie Byrne, and appeared in Sweeney Todd, Candide, Jesus Christ Superstar, and two operas, The Magic Flute and MacBeth. The wonderful instructors, the frequent opportunities for performing, and the fine education I received there gave me a great start."

Karen transferred to Central Michigan University and, after graduation, went to work for the Bloomfield Hills Schools where she taught for three years. For the past 13 years, she's been a teacher in Jenison Public Schools where she teaches elementary music. She also teaches a class of autistic students.

She says, "Most of these children are very responsive to music even though they may not respond in the ways we might expect. Sometimes music can reach them when nothing else can." In addition, Karen leads three choirs including the junior choir at her church. She received her master's degree from Grand Valley State University and now teaches a class there on music for the classroom teacher.

Besides her busy career, Karen is a wife and mother of two children, Brandon and Emily. Modestly, Karen deflects compliments, "I've been fortunate to have such a supportive family and to work for a school system that truly values music education. I've been blessed by having wonderful people in my life."

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