Tinka Elliot Knopf de Esteban ’55
With a name as uncommon as "Tinka," you suspect there is an interesting story to tell about this 1955 graduate from Wheeler. And there is. Tinka's family was one of three founding families of the island of Nantucket. A 13th generation descendant of Thomas Macy, Tinka is the last one to have held onto the original family home.
An only child, whose mother and grandmother both passed away just after she graduated from Wheeler, Tinka remembers Wheeler fondly during a difficult time in her life. She was a scholarship student at Wheeler-the recipient of a scholarship set aside for the children of wounded soldiers in the armed services. Her father, Col. Stacy Knopf was retired for physical disability in 1945.
So how did Tinka become Tinka? Born Margaret Elliot the V, her father couldn't get her name out fast enough and Meg, Peg etc were already taken. Her father named her Tinker after the song "Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Sailor." But because they lived in Massachusetts, Tinker became Tinka.
When she interviewed at Wheeler, the music teacher, coincidentally named Mr. Tinker, told her that her piano skills were so strong that they didn't have anyone that could teach her. He then picked up the phone and called a colleague at Brown University in Providence and said, "You have to listen to this kid play." Wheeler accepted Tinka and she was given lessons at Wheeler by Frank Madeira, the conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, much like Wheeler's partnership with the Rhode Island Philharmonic today. Because Tinka took extra music classes, she credits Wheeler with her honed ability to manage her time. Wheeler taught her a broad range of study skills and all those skills "stay with you for life."
She is grateful to Wheeler for exposing her to all sorts of things; the Farm, music, art, vibrant classes and visiting lecturers. Her fondest memory about Wheeler is Headmaster, Rowly Morgan. Mr. Morgan personally walked her and other girls to any concert or show in Providence that they wanted to see. He took an interest in her talent and opened doors for Tinka and other students. She also learned study skills at Wheeler which helped her to easily absorb information in her distinguished musical education that followed. Tinka is also Dr. Knopf. She received her Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Tinka also received a diploma from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where she studied with Alicia deLarrocha. Tinka was a member of the piano faculty and associate dean of the Peabody Conservatory for many years and taught two national Baldwin winners in piano as well as a national runner-up. One of her students won the Premiere Prix de Paris, and others have made their debut at Little Carnegie Hall.
Tinka and her husband, Fernando Esteban, have retired and now live between Nantucket and Mallorca, Spain, doing what they love. Tinka gives piano lessons while her husband is an interpreter at the Nantucket Hospital (he speaks 13 languages) because they need him. This generous pair has a philosophy about their personal philanthropy. They use their annual giving dollar on supporting individuals in need. They were not able to have children, but Tinka shared that they have had 23 "children"—some from Majorca, some from the States. They always have someone living with them, someone that they are helping, and they are in still in touch with all 23 of "their children."
Tinka and her husband have joined the Heritage Society at Wheeler by including Wheeler in their will—this is their way of giving back to a school that gave so much to Tinka. She explains "that it is my duty to pay back the good fortune and fantastic training in study habits with focus on organizational skills that I enjoyed at Wheeler."
As a music teacher, Tinka understands the need to encourage talent in others. She helped many young musicians over the course of her career. Her wish to leave a legacy at Wheeler continues her belief in encouraging and helping others.