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Mankato Riverblenders History

AWARD OF HARMONY RECIPIENTS

Award of Harmony: given annually to an individual (non-barbershopper) who has contributed to harmony in our community.

1980

Elmer Fritz

1981

Betty Painter

1982

Dorothy Foster

1983

Fr. Robert Crosbie

1984

Roy B. Moore

1985

Ray Kraus

1986

Bunny Just

1987

Don Paap

1988

Sara McKay

1989

Harold Paul

1990

Allen Wortman

1991

Dagne Pearson

1992

Jean Sorenson

1993

Dr. Eillis Jones

1994

Chuck Pasek

1995

Robert Warrent

1996

Fred Lutz

1997

Lowell Schreyer

1998

Carol Grimmer

1999

Claire and Hazel Faust

2000

Martin Larson

2001

Bob Wirtz

2002

Jack McGowan

2003

Paulette Redman

2004

Angie Miller

2005

Sue Splinter

2006

Pamela Determan

2007

Denny & Karen Sandersfeld

2008

John Berg

2009

Truman Wood

2010 Pam DeMarce 2011 Win and Shirley Grundmeir
2012 Jerry and Carol Larson 2013 Jeanne Makela and Denny Wahlstrom
2014 Gretchen Etzell 2015

Scott Wojcik

2016 Barbara Frank* 2017 Sandy Stenzel
2018 Christine Schulz    

Each year the Mankato Area Riverblenders present our Award of Harmony to someone who is creating harmony in our community and making a significant contribution to all of us by what they have done.  Candidates for this award come from all walks of life.  Over the years, we’ve recognized outstanding community leaders, business people, educators, volunteers, artists, and musicians.  And in each case, our award winners created unusual harmony by what they had done and often it was done through their music.  This year, we are again privileged to recognize a wonderful musician who has enriched our lives with beautiful music.  She has created exceptional harmony in our community for many years and we are so proud to recognize her today. 

Our talented musician was an only small child, raised as a country girl by her loving parents on a little farm just outside Lake Crystal when they noticed her musical talent.  She could barely reach the keyboard when she began to play the piano.  Her parents were so encouraged by her interest that when she was just 4 years old she began taking organ lessons.  She has always been a bit shy, but it didn’t take long before she began sharing her tremendous talent with others.  She was just 7 years old when she began playing the organ for church services at the Garden City Christian Church.

When she entered grade school, it wasn’t long before she was playing for every type of mixed ensemble and school chorus.  She loved to work with all types of music, but she really loved playing those rhythmic gospel tunes and show music.  In the 5th grade, she began taking lessons on the saxophone and soon was playing the alto saxophone in the Lake Crystal High School band.  As a soloist she won many contest awards with her saxophone, but the thing she enjoyed most was playing her tenor sax in the jazz band.
 

She was awarded the prestigious John Phillip Sousa Band Award in her senior year.  The Sousa Award is the pinnacle of achievement to honor the top student in a high school band, recognizing their superior musicianship and outstanding dedication.  But according to her, the most significant recognition she has ever had was when she was handpicked to be a member of the United States Collegiate Wind Band.  This distinguished group selected only 2 students from every state in the Union and after several performances and rehearsals in the U.S. she toured Europe for 3½ weeks.  Quite an honor for that young country girl from Lake Crystal.

She began her college education at Mankato State University pursuing a degree in music with an emphasis on keyboard.  But, soon she learned that much of her curriculum was based on learning the classics and playing boring scores from the likes of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms.  One of her earliest piano teachers had taught her to be creative and use the printed score as just a guide.  She had learned how to add embellishments to nearly everything she played and those “gospel-style” flourishes were second nature.  So, it wasn’t long that she decided to change her major and settled in on the pursuit of a business degree.  This was a time of reflection and definitely a time for her to decide what her future might be.  But then there was a big change coming her way and it literally changed her outlook on music forever.

It was when Dr. Al Wortman asked her to join a six-member combo on the keyboard to accompany the popular Ellis Street Singers.  The Ellis Street Singers began under the direction of Dr. Wortman and consisted of full-time music students interested in singing popular music.  The group normally had 12 to 16 singers and they performed jazz, popular music, and musical theater pieces.  Their performances were in demand throughout the region and she loved performing with the group.  Her involvement in Ellis Street Singers eventually got her back in a music curriculum that she enjoyed which led to her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Management.  With her deep interest in keyboard and organ, another great MSU music professor Linda Duckett, encouraged her to pursue post graduate work.  And eventually she earned her Master’s degree in Organ Performance.

She has been the organist and pianist at Bethlehem Lutheran Church since September of 1990 and served as secretary of the Sioux Trails American Guild of Organists for several years.  Her creativity has led her to write organ music and she has published her own variation on a traditional folk song.   The Ash Grove is a traditional Welsh folk song with a well-known melody and she created her Variations on The Ash Grove for organ which has been published by Morning Star Music.  Although you may not know it, you probably have heard her on many occasions.  Over the past 25 years, she has been the primary rehearsal and performance pianist for well over 130 musicals produced by the Mankato State University Department of Theater and Dance.  Most recently, she played for all rehearsals and performed in the orchestra for Rag time.

 In her spare time, she loves playing and snuggling with her smarter-than­ average cats and is an accomplished nature photographer.  She won first prize in the City of Lake Crystal photo contest last summer with her picture, "Spring Sunset over Lily Lake" and her pictures have also been published in the regional Mankato Magazine.  We are so pleased that this wonderfully talented lady has been the accompanist for several of our joint Christmas concerts with the Minnesota Valley Sweet Adelines and we are so proud to know her as one of our dearest friends.  You’ll never see her without a smile! 

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