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An 11th hour donation will keep Springfield’s Conservatory of the Ozarks — slated to close Wednesday — open through at least the end of 2020.

Heather Leverich, who founded the fine arts academy in 2008, said the unexpected help is enough to cover all the conservatory’s bills for the next three months.

“It’s just incredible to think of being able to keep going,” she said in a video posted to the conservatory’s YouTube channel. “Three months is a long time.”

Leverich said she plans to work through the end of 2020 to recruit enough students who want to learn, in person and online, to stay open indefinitely.

At the start of 2020, enrollment was strong at the conservatory located in the Kickapoo Corners shopping center on South Avenue.

Students of all ages signed up for private and group lessons in voice, drama, art, piano and other musical instruments. At its height, more than 200 students were enrolled in at least one artistic pursuit.

The pandemic changed all that. In late March and early April, the conservatory was shut down and enrollment dropped by nearly half. Many of the students who continued opted to learn online.

Related coverage: Springfield’s Conservatory of the Ozarks to close its doors

Nothing changed during the summer. The fall enrollment bump that typically coincides with the start of a new school year did not materialize.

She described this year as “a nightmare of uncertainty” but added that many others have had it even worse during the pandemic.

By mid-August, Leverich figured closing was the best decision. She didn’t have enough money to keep going.

“If you are hoping for a miracle but you don’t have any indication that is going to be a miracle, you have to prepare for the worst,” she said.

Faculty at the conservatory packed up their teaching studios. Leverich, who planned to move lessons to her home, started to sell off equipment including pianos.

At the start of this week, Leverich was sad. “I’m starting it thinking this is the last Monday Conservatory of the Ozarks will ever exist and in three days it will be completely over.”

That day, Leverich received an email from a “big supporter of the arts.” On Tuesday, Jon and Dawna Morris handed her a check.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched. Faculty plan to stay on.

“It’s so great to see that people want it to keep going,” she said on the video. “It makes me feel like everything I’ve worked for is worth something.”

Leverich told the News-Leader that the Morris’ donation “saved us.” The amount of the gift has not been disclosed.

“I am just in shock,” she said. “I never would have thought this would happen.”

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.

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