In honor of her 96th birthday this month, we take this opportunity to celebrate Bernice Pomeroy as our March Musician of Note.
Pomeroy’s piano and organ recitals have been enjoyed for over three decades in and around Patagonia. She has taught piano to dozens of children and adults, but folks who don’t know her well may be surprised to learn that music was actually her second career. Her first was teaching elementary school, a career she loved enough to write a book about it.
Her interest in music took root in her early childhood years in Wakarusa, Indiana where her fascination with the pump organs and player pianos, enjoyed by members of her extended Mennonite family, continues to infuse her daily life with joy and purpose. Surprisingly, despite that fascination and her early mastery of the keyboard, her post-high school career objective was simply “to get married and have babies.”
Fortunately, Pomeroy’s career path went well beyond those goals. Two days after graduating from Arizona State Teacher’s College (now ASU) she married Tal Pomeroy, whom she had met in freshman chemistry class. She had five children, the first of whom she lost in a tragic automobile accident at 16 months of age. That loss would eventually find expression in the level of dedication and compassion with which she approached her work with elementary school students, which she took up after her own children were all in school.
Although music was always part of her life, it wasn’t until she moved to Patagonia in 1981 that it became a second career. Her introduction to Patagonia was through Doris Wenig who was also the “instrument” of musician Dick Klosterman’s introduction to the area. The Wenigs and Pomeroys had developed a friendship when the two women worked together in Tucson public schools. The Wenigs invited the Pomeroys to go along on excursions to the Patagonia Mountains, which the Wenigs had grown to love.
The Pomeroys, too, fell in love with the area, bought the house Pomeroy still lives in, renovated it extensively, and began to settle into their new life of leisure.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. A friend whose children had just lost their piano teacher asked Pomeroy to fill the void. At first, she said, “I don’t know how to teach piano,” but the persistent friend reminded her that she was a teacher and handed over the children’s music lesson books. And so, her musical career took center stage as she took on increasingly more pupils, performed at recitals and accompanied worship services.
If love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru, it is also what makes Pomeroy a gifted teacher. She loves not only her work; she also loves her students and that love is evident in how she finds the unique keys to helping each individual learn, enjoy and create music. “I know how to do things that aren’t in the books,” she says.
Pomeroy has been the organist at the Patagonia Methodist Church since Christmas Eve in 1984, a labor of love from which she derives great joy, especially because on most Sundays she and her good friend, pianist Sonia Johnson, collaborate on musical arrangements for the service.
Music is so much a part of Pomeroy’s everyday life that she tells me, “I feel like I’m living a musical score.” If her life is a musical score, it’s a score that compels her to dance as well as play. “Dancing,” she says, “is great for your brain,” and she practices what she preaches. She dances at every opportunity and, in a regular Sunday ritual, after church she goes across the border to Nogales, Sonora to dine and dance to the live music at La Roca. A dancing disciple myself, I ask if I may go with her sometime and she enthusiastically replies, “Of course!”
Still actively playing and dancing as she closes in on that century mark, Pomeroy is not just a musical treasure, but an inspirational figure who uplifts those who encounter her.
Happy birthday, Bernice!! And save me a dance at that hundredth birthday bash.
Musicians of Note recognizes individuals and groups who have crafted the rich and vibrant musical tapestry of Eastern Santa Cruz County