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Sister Ignatia and Patricia Ann (Plehn) Corey during one of Corey's many visits back to Mount St. Mary's Chalon Campus.

A family's donation, a violin's second act

A violin once used in Mount St. Mary’s concerts during World War II is now being played at the College once again. The violin's second act began with the April 19 "Spring Sing" concert performed by the Mount Chorus and Singers.

The 1936 violin was recently donated to the College by Jim Wilson, one of Patricia Ann (Plehn) Corey's three children. Corey played the instrument as a Mount St. Mary’s music student in 1942. After she passed away in July 2011, Wilson decided to donate his mother's treasured violin to the College, where it will be provided on loan to music majors and minors as part of a music scholarship program.

“We’re honored to receive the gift of her beloved violin,” says Sister Therese Fassnacht, chair of the College’s Music department. “She lovingly and meticulously cared for this violin and I’ve learned that in many ways it represents the heart of who she was.”

Friday’s concert featured an eclectic mix of choral works, ranging from Italian Baroque to spirituals by Moses Hogan. Applied music faculty member Colleen Coomber had the honor of playing Plehn’s violin during a piece called Stabat Mater (“The Mother Stood”). “This beautiful, melancholic hymn is one of the most powerful and moving written in the 18th century,” Fassnacht says.

Long-held memories
It had been 71 years since the violin was last featured at Mount St. Mary’s. In the summer of 1942, Corey - then still Patricia Ann Plehn - received a handwritten note from the College: “Your request for a scholarship has been granted in return for which we expect your active cooperation in the orchestra. Sincerely, Sister Ida, Dean.”

And participate she did. A playbill from the Mount’s very first performance that fall, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, lists Patricia Plehn in the orchestra.

Unfortunately, her college time was cut short due to a wartime move to Norfolk, Va. She spent only a single semester at Mount St. Mary’s, but the connections she made lasted a lifetime.

“She just loved the College,” says Theresa Caballero, another of Corey’s three children. “She loved the Sisters. She looked up to them so much and was always so impressed with them. They were her friends and they continued to check in on her through the years. There was a strong bond there.”

Caballero has copies of letters her mother exchanged with the Sisters over several decades. And even though Corey wasn’t able to finish her college education, she visited the Mount often after returning to California. She encouraged others to attend the school; one of Caballero’s best friends graduated with the Class of ’76.

And Corey continued to play her treasured violin, performing socially, in her churches and in community symphonies. She played the piano and organ, as well, never slowing down until forced to do so due to health issues. Even then, she kept her violin, her lifelong source of joy, safely hidden in a closet. “And she didn’t trust anybody else to take it to the shop without her!” Caballero remembers with a laugh.

Caballero’s brother, Jim Wilson, inherited the violin when their mother passed away.

“He would have kept it in the family if someone was interested in playing it, but nobody was,” Caballero says. “He just couldn’t let it sit. None of us could. It needs to be played and loved. It’s too beautiful an instrument to rot away in a corner.”

Wilson came up with the idea of donating the violin to the College. “He said, ‘Since she had such a fondness for Mount St. Mary’s, that’s where it should go.”

Second act
The violin was made by Helmuth Ellersieck, a well-known violin-maker in L.A. during the early 20th century. (The violin’s bow is an antique, too, made by W.E. Hill & Sons out of tortoiseshell, silver and ebony.)

Corey’s father purchased the violin for $200, which was paid in $8 monthly installments. She often took the payments to Ellersieck’s home, which doubled as his shop. Caballero still has the final payment receipt from Jan. 21, 1941.

The following year, Corey took her new violin with her to Mount St. Mary’s.

This past April 19, 71 years later, Caballero drove with her husband and daughter from Riverside, Calif., to the College’s “Spring Sing” concert. Her brother Jim lives in Texas and sister Anita lives in Utah, so she represented her siblings when their mother’s violin began its second act.

“I’m probably going to tear up quite a lot,” Caballero said before the concert. “It will be good to hear it played again. I’ve missed hearing it. It’s a sound that will always remind us of our mother.”

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