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Tye, Martha Ellen Fisher

Published onNov 08, 2021
Tye, Martha Ellen Fisher

(November 1, 1909 — May 12, 1998)

Quick Facts

Although not an Iowa State graduate, her gifts to Iowa State provided an endowment for a performing arts scholarship, Music Hall's recital hall and an Institute coordinated by the Iowa State Center that presents and supports education and outreach programs in the performing arts.

Martha Ellen Fisher was born November 1, 1909 in Marshalltown, Iowa, the daughter of Jasper and Edna Baughman Fisher. She married attorney Joe B. Tye on September 22, 1955.

Martha became a well-known "patron of the arts" but she was not just an observer of the arts; she was a participant who invested in communities, young people and ideas.

Tye, who took up bike riding at age 70 and once performed as a singing washerwoman in a local Marshalltown production, found a unique way to connect with budding, young opera singers. For 20 years, she volunteered at a music camp for young people in Graz, Austria. The Marshalltown millionaire's lodging was a non-air-conditioned dorm room. Her job was delivering mail to the students and instructors — but her two-month stay at the American Institute for Musical Studies gave her tremendous joy.

She established the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation in 1976. From the beginning, the Foundation became the base of Martha Ellen's on-going, very personal approach to philanthropy. Her generosity was available to almost any good cause and the annual list of recipient organizations and projects reflected this very broad-based personal philanthropy. Favorite areas of giving were education, theater, music and libraries in an effort to attract, develop, and retain people who would help build and sustain innovative, civic-minded, healthy and caring communities.

Although not an Iowa State graduate, a $1.5 million gift to Iowa State University provided an endowment for a performing arts scholarship, renovation of the sound and lighting system in Music Hall's recital hall (named the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall) and an Institute coordinated by the Iowa State Center that presents and supports education and outreach programs in the performing arts.

Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall was officially dedicated on Sunday, October 25, 1998. Tye’s gift to the ISU Foundation's Campaign Destiny: To Become the Best had a great impact on the performing arts and art education at the university.

Her Performing Arts Institute, established in 1999, brings a unique blend of arts experiences to students of all ages through matinee performances, teaching activities in schools, demonstrations and workshops. The institute offers educational programs to elementary, high school and university students, provides performance experiences to aspiring young performing artists and supports the facilities that help students realize their creative potential.

Then ISU President Martin Jischke stated, “Her gift …exemplifies Mrs. Tye's lifelong desire to keep the arts alive and to benefit youth."

Tye passed away in May 1998. She was well known for her philanthropic activities, not only in her hometown, but throughout the state, nation and world. In addition to supporting Iowa's three public universities, she was a patron of the Des Moines Metro Opera, the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Chicago Lyric Opera, the San Antonio Symphony, and the American Institute for Musical Studies.

She was the lead donor to renovate Iowa State's Fisher Theater, named for her brother, Bill, a 1936 ISU graduate who was a Foundation Governor, and like his sister, a major benefactor to build the facility. Fisher Theater, part of the Iowa State Center, was completed in 1973 and named in recognition of the contributions made by J.W. "Bill" Fisher.

Selected Sources

Find A, Record added: Sep 26, 2012, Memorial# 97842158

ISU News Service, 10-22-98

Martha Ellen Tye Foundation website,

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