Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome you all to this donation ceremony in honor of our mom, Juanita Whitaker Pulos. With me today are my brother Robert and my wife Darcy, together with members of our law office staff Ellen and Shannon. Robert’s wife is unable to be with us today for health reasons and Robert’s daughter Kailey is hard at work today as a vocal music education major at Nazareth College in Rochester.
Also present today are good friends, long-time friends of our family. Many were in service with our mom to both congregations. Thank you very much for being here as we celebrate our mom’s life of service to God and the Church. All of you deserve praise.
First off, some housekeeping. My brother and I would like to thank Patty Curran (one of our mother’s favorite singers) for her help in arranging this ceremony today, Donna Ryan for helping us to tell our family story with her remembrances and by generously sharing the story with others, Amanda Snyder and Alise Ogden for sharing their times and memories with our mom and our family. Also, a thank you to Dave Snyder and THE ALFRED SUN newspaper, for running articles and particularly for running the column “In the SUN, 50 years ago today.” Second, we’d like everyone to stay for commemorative photographs immediately following these remarks and our cookie and coffee reception afterward.
All of us are here today to help the Moeller Organ Renovation Fund drive, a campaign being supported by both denominations that worship in this church, the 1st Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church (organized in 1812) and the Union University Church (organized in 1922). The co-chairs for the fund drive are Mrs. Patricia Curran and Mrs. Mary Stearns.
When we first read about the organ fund drive last year, it brought back many memories for my brother and me. Some of our earliest recollections come from this sanctuary where our mom played organ and directed choirs for about 20 years. When we were young children, she would have us at her feet, or on the bench, as she played this organ behind us during services.
Our mom was born in 1925 in the coal country mountains of eastern Kentucky. Her family worshipped in the 1st Church of God of Anderson, Indiana. She began playing keyboards as a child. Her first teacher was the doctor’s wife who insisted on practice, and a lot of it. The teacher also encouraged our mom to play without sheet music.
As time went on, our mom began playing in the local church as the church pianist. She began when she was 12. Every year as the evangelical revivals came to town our mom would play in the services. It got so that the revivalists would ask for her when they arrived.
Her father, our grandfather, was a coal miner. He served on the Church’s Board of Elders. His brother, our great-uncle, was a preacher in the Church. On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, the Board of Elders burned the Church mortgage. After high school graduation in 1943, our mom’s family followed the coal business and moved to Welch, West Virginia.
From early on, it was our mother’s dream to attend Anderson College, the home of the 1st Church of God. And so it was that she took a leap of faith, left the coal country for good and started at Anderson in 1944, at the height of World War II. Her major at college was piano theory. It was there she practiced 4 hours a day. For fun, she would entertain her friends on the piano as they would come to the studio and listen to her play.
At Anderson, she met our dad, a local professor-in-training. They wed in 1948, after she graduated, in the Anderson Park Place Church of God. A year later, our parents arrived in Alfred to begin their teaching careers.
Upon arrival, our parents moved into “Saxon Heights”, as did many others after the war. Some of their neighbors included Leon and Evelyn Lobdell, Gordon and Helen Ogden. The Ogden’s and the Randolph family had West Virginia roots and had a special “Southern Connection” with our mom, as did various others. They welcomed our parents to the community.
Our mom immediately enrolled at Alfred University in the Masters Education program. Shortly after, she was appointed Choir Director for the 1st Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church in 1952, with Mrs. Lillian Jacob at the organ. They both followed in the large footsteps of Dr. Ray Wingate who had served the Church for 40 years as Organist and Choir Director. A year earlier in 1951, our mom graduated from AU with a Masters degree along with Dan Rase, Dr. Wingate’s son-in-law, now part of the Wingate Foundation.
It is the Wingate pledge to match family donations that prompted, in part, our gift here today. Looking back, perhaps Juanita’s graduation with Dan was a bit more than coincidental.
Some of our mom’s happiest times in Alfred followed. Along with her duties at Alfred-Almond and at the Church, our mom was privileged to be part of a piano group in Alfred called “Christmas Time”. The members of the group included Mrs. Jacob, Mrs. Claire Randolph (a college music major and long time Alfred-Almond teacher) and Gene Jacox (an Eastman College graduate who later went on to play with the Cleveland Symphony, and cousin of Patty Curran).
Together these four would meet at Mrs. Jacob’s where they would play together on two pianos. My guess? Probably one of the most talented group of musicians that Alfred has ever seen.
In addition, our mom gave private lessons in our home on Jericho Hill. One of her first, and best, students was Amanda Stevens Snyder, who started with Juanita as a music student at AA as a 3d grader and went on to study and practice with her privately for six years. That may be a record. Stu and Loretta Smith’s daughter, Lisa, is also in that category, as is Christine DeSain, Jay Simpson, Lynda Whitney and probably several others. They all worked hard.
Every year, our mom’s students performed at recitals. As you can see from the reports, the children were from the denominations here in Alfred, Alfred Station and otherwise. Our mom was an “equal opportunity” teacher. If you wanted to play or sing, she’d accommodate you. It did not matter who you were or where you came from, as long as you were willing to practice.
In addition to the recitals, it was in 1954 that our mom presented 400 children in the pantomime, “A Christmas Carol Pageant” with sixth graders George Miller, Ann Dickens and Bill Frechette in the leads.
My brother and I were born in 1955 and 1957. In 1955, Mrs. Aurabeth Van Horn and Mrs. George Potter, daughters of the Seventh Day Pastor (the Rev. Clyde Ehret), hosted a picnic and baby shower for our mom. Nineteen members of the Seventh Day Baptist choir attended. In our mind, if ever there was a sign of acceptance in this community, that was it.
Our mom took a sabbatical from her duties at church and Alfred-Almond to take care of us in our formative years on Jericho Hill, while still giving piano lessons at our home. Alise Ogden, Bill Parish, Amanda and many others remember those times well, as our mom balanced their lessons with child care! There were lots of babysitters for my brother and me.
In 1960, our mom returned to service with the Union University Church, together with the Rev. Dr. Richard V. Bergren as Pastor and Dr. Melvin LeMon as Organist and Choir Director. These three assumed the roles formerly held at the Church by AU President Dr. Booth C. Davis as Pastor, Mrs. Joseph Seidlin as Organist and Mrs. Lois Boren Scholes as Choir Director, whose granddaughter Susan Scholes soon became an All-State performer in high school with our mom.
Juanita’s duties in the Church included serving as assistant organist and choir director to Dr. LeMon as well as director of the Junior and Youth choir. She sang in the choir for many years and it was there she continued her study and mastery of the Church’s dynamic pipe organ, another considerable challenge for her.
Her mentor in learning the pipe organ was Dr. LeMon, the noted, longtime professor of music at Alfred University. Their relationship was very close for many years. My brother and I knew Dr. LeMon as “Uncle Mel”. As she did in college, Juanita devoted hours and hours of training and practice to master this instrument. She enjoyed playing and many can attest to her skill and prowess on the bench in this Church.
In 1961, Charlie Cameron (who passed on last year) wrote in the church notes that Juanita “developed a very strong program for our young people.” In THE HISTORY OF THE UNION UNIVERSITY CHURCH 1922-1972, Mrs. Grace Nease noted “We notice more parents at church on the mornings the children sing.”
The junior choir members from those times can recount the ritual followed by Rev. Bergren and Juanita on the mornings the children sang in church. Just before the service, Rev. Bergren would always meet with Juanita’s juniors in the cloakroom and stairwell. In this anteroom, with children on the floor and perched on the stairs, Rev. Bergren always offered a prayer for the world, the community and the children.
Juanita’s ability to “ad lib” at the keyboard is legendary. Mrs. Betty Giles, retired AU and Houghton vocal professor and performer with whom Juanita served for many years (starting in the Union University Church), recently offered us some humor with this recent story: “We always enjoyed working with Juanita in spite of the fact that we were never quite sure what the accompaniment would sound like when she played for our students. She was so capable of ‘ad libbing’ that she never played an accompaniment the same way twice. She had no problem improving on Mozart or Schubert and adding ‘her style’ to their songs. This was a bit traumatic for our young students who needed the consistency of hearing the accompaniments the same way every time.”
Juanita was also a composer of music, apparently unpublished to date, but nevertheless remembered by many who performed the songs. Mrs. Giles noted in her tribute that Juanita had asked her daughter, Verity (Giles) Swayne to sing three songs she had composed from the Psalms at a couple of different events. Some Christmas songs have also surfaced – all written in Juanita’s hand on manuscript paper, some courtesy of Jan Stearns Porter.
Today, her legacy lives on. After the death of Juanita’s husband in 1995, the Alfred-Almond Bible Church purchased Juanita’s personal piano from the Pulos Estate and moved it to the Church where it is on display in Almond; it is lovingly played by her former student Donna (Burdett) Ryan and others. It stands as a testament to Juanita’s lifelong cherished beliefs in God, family, music, and teaching. No one has ever told me, but I believe it was probably Donna Ryan’s idea for the Church to buy it.
Because it is important to us that our mother’s legacy lives on to benefit others, we decided to help with the organ renovation project with a donation to the fund.
On behalf of our entire family, we are very pleased to present 2 checks to the fund co-chairs. In honor of our mother’s service to both congregations in this community for twenty-five years, we are pleased to present one check in the amount of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) to the 1st Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church and one check in the amount of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) to the Alfred Union University Church.
Finally, we offer our gratitude and respect to the Harold and Edith Simpson family, longtime friends in the Union University Church. Our friendship with them dates back to at least 1954, when Juanita’s students (including Alan, Jay and Donna Ryan) performed their recitals at the Simpson home on the corner of Main and Greene Streets. We are so very pleased to report that Edith, Jay and Carol Simpson, now residing in Maryland, have donated a combined, additional, Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) to the organ renovation fund, upon learning of our family ceremony here today.
Together with the Simpson family, we now offer these gifts with the hope that our donations will encourage others to help, and with the hope that our donations will be matched by the Wingate Foundation pledge.
With that, we offer our thanks and gratitude to the Church community for allowing us this opportunity to participate in such a worthy cause and thank you all for joining us today.
We wish you all the very best and may God Bless us all.
WILLIAM AND ROBERT PULOS
MARCH 4, 2009.