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Choral director receives chorus of compliments

By Staff | Apr 12, 2016

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Jeanne Berninger (seated center), West Branch Chorale director is retiring after 38 years. She is with long time members (left-right): Connie Holtzapple, Betsy Thompson, Don Burkhart, Alan Wheal and Nancy Winder.

“I’m so glad we had this time together,” were words sung by the West Branch Chorale (WBC) as the concert finale at Pleasant View Wesleyan Church, Muncy on Sunday, April 10.

Retiring after 38 years, Jeanne Berninger exited the director’s stand and part way down the aisle, turned and waved to the 72 choir members as they concluded singing, “So long.”

Prior to the finale, former members were invited to join the choir in singing what’s considered their signature song, “This Little Light of Mine.” Among the two dozen or more veteran vocalists were Bonnie Foust and Barbara Sear.

Berninger prepared for this day by writing a personal message. In it she said, “I never imagined a simple offer to direct a 14-voice chorus in 1977 would become a 38-year joy in my life. I’m so grateful for each of those years. This experience has filled my heart with pleasure, satisfaction and countless friends.”

Noted to chorale members was her thanks for dedication and diligent devotion to patrons and supporters, thanks for financial support, encouragement and appreciation.

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Celebrating their director's retirement, members of the West Branch Chorale who served on the banquet committee following the Muncy concert on April 10 at Hughesville Fire Hall include: (Front left to right): Bonnie Horn, Karen Bowman, Bonnie Glidewell, Linda Snyder, Donna Kiesinger, Carol Hill, Jeanne Berninger, Joy Barto. (Back row): John Libbey, Nancy Winder, Anne Bulkley, Paul Putney. Committee members not in photo: Elsie Ashton, Bob Bowman.

To Joy Barto she said, “Thanks for being our wonderful piano player. It has been a pleasure to work with such marvelous talent. Everything I have ever asked you to do musically, you have done easily and willingly. I appreciate your cooperation, friendship and support.”

Barto was one of several persons who responded to requests to share her sentiments. Joy said, “I sang with the WBC a few years before Jeanne asked me, in 1983, to be the accompanist. The rest is history! Jeanne has been a wonderful mentor and friend. The past 33 years have been filled with long rehearsals, entertaining concerts, memorable trips, and wonderful fellowship with many beautiful friends. Thank you, Jeanne Berninger! Well done, thou good and faithful director! Your expertise will be dearly missed!”

Long time members from various vocal sections gave reviews.

Soprano Nancy Winder of Clarkstown, began in the fall of 1977. “I had already joined what was then the Muncy Valley Community Chorus for the spring season. When Jeanne took over, I liked the change in music she implemented. I served on the board of directors several times over the years. I also took a couple years off to continue my education at the Williamsport Area Community College, returned and again returned after marrying and having two children. The chorale has been the one thing I do for myself. I enjoy the music, the people and most of all the director.”

Nancy continued saying, “Jeanne has been a pleasure to work with from board meetings, practices, concerts and travels. She is a task master and you better be watching so you’re not the one singing on a rest. We have sung songs we didn’t know we liked.”

Alto Connie Holtzapple of Muncy said, “My journey with Jeanne Berninger goes back many years to the choir at the Methodist Church in Muncy where she was director. I have always enjoyed singing and when she took over the Muncy Valley Chorus, I decided to ‘sing along’ also. Over the years, the chorale grew in numbers and we grew as singers. Probably the most exciting part of our journey was our trips to Europe to sing. Wonderful experience and memories to last a lifetime.”

Bass Don Burkhart of Hughesville, a member since 1975 said, “As one of the originators of the group of singers, Jeanne’s work as director later helped the choir grow rapidly. Her choice of music appealed to many in the community and crowds the concerts became commonplace.”

Burkhart added, “The director is a person who is always prepared. It takes many hours to select music for two types of programs every year. The chorale has done some acting and donned special costumes for centennial celebrations, etc.”

Of the director’s schedule, Burkhart said, “One of Jeanne’s comments has been ‘I never cancel practice’ and she has been able to fulfill that statement almost one hundred percent. The director instills in everyone the desire to do their best and the performances at concerts year after year proves she gets results.”

And too, “She has arranged several trips to foreign countries and for us to sing at various venues on special occasions. Again, the group responds well to her requests. The loyalty and respect of the people who regularly practice and perform, as well as the financial support from sponsors in the community, is testimony she is loved and appreciated by those she has touched with her gift of leadership.”

Following the April 10th concert, a banquet was held at the Hughesville Fire Hall. Master of Ceremonies for both the concert and banquet was Richard Dietz, longtime friend since their days at Bloomsburg State University.

During college, Jeanne was part of a women’s group called ‘The President’s Trio.’ According to Dietz, wherever the college president went, the trio went along to entertain.

When WBC member Mindelle “Mindy” Bartholomew came to audition for the choir, it was learned that the new songster’s mother was one of the three former trio members.

Others taking the microphone sang or read poems of their own composition, or shared sentiments. They included Luanne Frantz, Robert Bowman and John Libbey.

With the banquet committee standing nearby, Jeanne was presented with several gifts.

The last of the two presentations of the spring concert series entitled “MEMORIES,” will be held Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. at Faith United Methodist Church, 700 Fairview Drive, Montoursville, PA.

Meanwhile, a new director has been chosen and will continue the chorale’s regular schedule.