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A century of music: Ottawa instructor celebrates 100 years

Past and present students thank teacher for support

For Evelyn Brue Roeder, a day isn’t complete without a little music in it.

Her life is guided by music and it was that shared passion that filled Fellowship Hall at Bethel Lutheran Church in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon.

Followers from across the country celebrated their beloved music teacher’s 100th birthday, which will be Tuesday, May 1.

“All these people coming up just to say hello is just wonderful,” Evelyn said. “It’s wonderful to remember them and I was hoping to see some of my old students here.”

‘She was the greatest there ever was’

And her students showed up, in large numbers.

The hall had poster boards with photos of various awards and students from Evelyn’s nearly 80 years in teaching.

Evelyn began teaching in Ottawa in 1940 and shook the hands of students from ages 18 to 80 during the festivities.

“I had 100 students almost immediately and it all grew all the time. It was never-ending. No spare moments in my life,” she said with a chuckle.

Prior student Denny Rossiter said he wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to thank her for her years teaching.

“She was the greatest there ever was,” Rossiter said.

Rossiter explained he took lessons from Evelyn from age 8 all the way through high school and returned later in life to take an additional five years learning to play steel guitar.

He said it was like returning to see family.

“All my students are like family to me,” Evelyn said.

“I know and that’s why they all did so well,” Rossiter added.

She’s still producing musicians today including Joshua Churchill who in a year has not only learned to play guitar but also has taken his newfound passion further and plans to build a guitar.

Prior to meeting Evelyn, he hadn’t played much at all.

“She just has a way of teaching that makes it easy,” Churchill said.

And her students have ended up taking their skills across the country.

Gary Snyder said he was surprised to learn his neighbor in a remote part of New Mexico also was a former student of Evelyn’s.

His wife, Susan, said it’s not too surprising.

“You meet them all over the world,” she said.

Awards aplenty

And the proof of their success was in the hardware they brought home.

A number of students thanked her for the patience she showed in teaching, but also for her perseverance when it came to encouraging them to reach musical heights they didn’t think they could.

Evelyn and her students routinely competed at the top level at concerts across the country.

“We worked hard and the parents worked hard,” Evelyn said. “In those days there wasn’t all these phones and other stuff that there is now. They concentrated on music. That was the big thing and to go to a concert was thrilling.”

Her niece, Kay Sharpe, went on to become a recording artist and jingle singer in Texas for more than 40 years.

Evelyn said she knew Sharpe had the talent when she won first place awards for playing steel guitar seven years in a row.

“She’s very patient and encouraging and she would just make sure you would do it right,” Kay said. “You’ve got to do it right and you’ll do it over and over until you do it right.”

She took her teaching to the next level after taking an arrangement class in Chicago for a short time and began creating original pieces to meet the skills of her students.

Occasionally, it became overwhelming including when she and her group won 129 awards in one year.

“That was very unheard of and (my late husband) George and I were the emcees to announce. So they would bring the paper over and it would be our own names and we were embarrassed,” Evelyn said. “By the time it was done we felt very guilty as we had won too much.”

The best part of her day

But Evelyn never did it for the awards or the acknowledgment.

She said music has always just been a part of her life.

“I think you’re just born with it,” she added.

Evelyn said she was grateful for the time spent, and continues to spend, teaching.

She doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon as a pitch-perfect day for her continues to be one where she has a student sitting next to her and a sheet of music on the stand.

“(It’s about) the joy of seeing them learn. It’s a part of my life. It’s me,” Evelyn said. “It makes my day complete.”

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