An instrument of generosity
Who could have known when Mary K. Oyer started playing cello in sixth grade that a cello would help her generously support causes dear to her heart when she was in her 90s?
A Goshen College music and humanities professor who taught for more than 40 years, Mary’s love of music began with a borrowed cello from her teacher at Parkside Elementary School in Goshen, Indiana. Mary’s father had died, and her mother did not have enough money to buy a cello.
“I heard a sixth-grader playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ on a cello and I was quite enamored,” she said. “I found it very compelling and exciting.”
Mary had one other cello of her own before she bought a higher-quality cello in 1952 from a music store in Chicago. Made in France in 1872 in the respected luthier workshop of Gand & Bernadel, the instrument “had a very full tone.” She bought it for $1,000 and by 2015, its value had multiplied considerably.
Mary hadn’t played the cello in a while and, in the fall of 2015, pondered what to do with the instrument. Her longtime Everence Financial Advisor showed her information about how people can donate almost anything of value and support charitable causes in the process through Everence Charitable Services.
Her advisor introduced Mary to the Everence Church Relations and Charitable Services Representative on his team. “[She] was so helpful,” Mary said. “She was interested but not intrusive.”
The cello was appraised and donated to Mennonite Foundation – an affiliate of Everence – and Mary’s gift will support two charitable institutions that she chose.
Friends worried that parting with the cello might take an emotional toll on Mary. But while it wasn’t an easy step to take, she didn’t have the energy to play the cello anymore. “I was ready to let it go.”
And it’s not like Mary gave up music – she still has a piano and enjoys playing duets with a friend.
Mary and music have a long and close relationship. Mary said, “Emotionally, it’s very important. It incorporates the right side of one’s brain, which is where scientists say we process emotion,” adding, “It’s valuable to the spirit.”
And socially, she enjoys singing hymns with others in her retirement community once a month – simply for the fun of it.
She majored in music and minored in art as a student at Goshen College, graduating in 1945. It wasn’t long before the dean asked Mary to teach a course in the arts.
The college estimates that more than 5,000 students learned fundamentals of art and music through Mary’s class, Introduction to fine arts. While teaching at Goshen College, Mary also earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in (cello) performance from the University of Michigan.
Integrating the relationship between visual arts and music in terms of their form and historical context was Mary’s focus in the classroom. “I taught in a way that I understood,” she said, noting that she is dyslexic but didn’t know that at the time.
She remembers asking her students to “look at a painting or listen to a piece of music – what’s going on here? How’s it organized?” Music and paintings “use the same artistic principles, expressed in different ways – the virtues of both approaches.”
She sometimes hears from former students still applying that knowledge. They may visit a cathedral in Europe, for example, and write to Mary about what they’ve seen.
Mary is still combining her loves of music and teaching. In 2005, she taught one of the first Lifelong Learning Institute of Elkhart County courses – a program she continues today. She especially enjoys helping the Institute students (all 55 years old or older) delve into church hymns to find out how the songs relate to what was going on in the period in which they were written.
“I really love it,” said Mary, who turned 93 on April 5. What’s so rewarding about teaching? “Seeing people discover the pleasure of the arts.”