Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 29, 2013

With a song in her heart

By Dr. Don Newbury
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Composer George Gershwin and Stephenville elementary school music teacher Virginia Bond would likely have agreed on much.

She would have drawn the line, however, on the premise of his hit composition, “Summertime,” objecting to the line about it being “easy.”

For her, it was the dreariest time of all. It was in this season each year that she was separated from her beloved music students, and she endured 65 consecutive summers?one for each of the 65 years she taught.

They gathered by the hundreds a few days ago in Stephenville at her memorial service.

Some were from three-generation families whose members had been in her classes. All had “Virginia Bond stories,” a common thread about how she used music to convince her students — from the least able to those oozing with talent — that they all mattered. And that they all had songs in their hearts.

They spoke of her being a “Southern lady,” always in Sunday dress and high heels, always joyous and dignified, and always engaging and humble. Someone said she was by all measures a “bondservant,” pointing to one biblical definition — “devotion to others with total disregard for one’s own well-being.”

A native of nearby Dublin, she finished public school there before enrolling in what was then a two-year school, John Tarleton Agricultural College. She studied music at what is now the University of North Texas, earning Bachelor of Music (1945) and Master of Music degrees (1956).

From the mid-1940s until retirement when her health started to fail in 2009, she served Stephenville ISD.

She never married. Instead, she loved her students, her parents who resided with her until their final years, and her pets. There was a long line of dogs and cats. The last was a feline named “Ringo.”

Many of her students pursued musical careers. Jim Perry, a retired band director, said he remembers clearly the day Miss Bond explained what “whole notes” mean.

Terry Price, who officiated at the service, was in her class 58 years ago. He recalled these simple lines: “I’m Peter Rabbit, sometimes I’m the Easter Bunny. I’m just a rabbit, people think I’m cute and funny.”

Some of the folks remembered attending her Sunday school class as second-graders. She taught the class at First Baptist Church for more than 50 years.

When she retired at age 85, the city of Stephenville presented her the first-ever “key to the city.” But her “keys” of love, music and devotion already had unlocked the hearts of many citizens who are former students.

This was but one of stacks of awards she received across the years.

Dr. Darrell Floyd, Stephenville ISD superintendent, says a permanent display of her memorabilia will be featured in the lobby of “Virginia Bond Auditorium,” a building named in her honor in 1997. How fitting. Until the building was purchased and converted to an auditorium, it was a church.

Miss Bond lived independently until a few years ago, when Alzheimer’s got the upper hand.

Visitors during her final weeks were generally unrecognizable and her responses were limited.

However, a couple of months ago, she proved there still was a song in her heart. Joy Jones, a longtime friend, asked her if she’d like to play the piano — an instrument the beloved teacher had loved since age 4. It was one of her rare “good days,” and Miss Bond timidly put her hands on the keys.

Joy sang the first verse of “In the Garden,” then Miss Bond joined in, tentatively, but capably and softly. She still had a song in her heart.

In one memorial note, a former student wrote: “She was a composer, director, producer, pianist, artist, seamstress, teacher and angel.”

That pretty much sums it up.

One incident late in her life led to an expansion of her “Sunday best” wardrobe. Breaking up a minor scuffle at school, she sustained a broken arm. She was asked to wear pants and tennis shoes to therapy.

She owned neither, but agreed to buy one pair of pants. She couldn’t abide wearing tennis shoes, however.

So, she was allowed to do therapy in her pumps. After all, she was Virginia Bond. And, she did therapy “her way.”

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Dr. Don Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He may be reached by email at newbury@speakerdoc.com. His website is www.speakerdoc.com. Follow him on Twitter: @donnewbury.