Statesman Staff Writer
Nothing is going to stop Geneva Acord. She intends to keep playing her piano and singing as long as she is physically able. At 86 years old she shows no sign of slowing down.
"If I sound like an old crow, I'm going to sing anyway."
Geneva has been playing piano and singing in churches since she was 14 years old. She plays the piano for the Senior Citizens Choir, which performs every Thursday at noon at the Dexter Senior Center. The choir also performs at Central Gardens on Mondays and rotates between Golden Living Center, Cypress Point and Crowley Ridge Care Center on Thursday afternoons.
Geneva taught piano lessons at her home in Dexter for many years. While never formally trained, she reads music and learned to transpose songs. From the beginning her music centered on her Christian beliefs, which meant that she taught church hymns to her students. She had "an ear for chording," and that is what she tried to pass on to her students.
Geneva began giving piano lessons after she was approached by a woman at her church to teach her son, Billy Sherfield. He was her first of many students.
"All I've ever known, God has taught me," she says.
Her husband, Chuck, was a carrier of the Post Office in town. The piano lessons were a way for her to "help with family finances." When she started, she got 50 cents per lesson. People began lining up for the lessons. For 35 years she taught piano every day after school from 3 to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. She even had a waiting list for people wanting to take lessons. While most were youngsters, she also taught adults. She remembers one of her star students was Rita Davis, but there were others. She watched as many of them went on to play piano at various area churches and even in gospel performing groups.
Geneva was born Sept. 6, 1926, the daughter of J.L. and Blanche Jackson. J.L. was the official weatherman for the town. Her mother always wanted to play the piano, but did not have the opportunity as she was one of several children and had only a third grade education. After the children got old enough, her mother took a job at Elder Manufacturing and saved enough money to spend $50 for a piano. She arranged for 11-year-old Geneva to begin taking lessons from Belle Young.
At 14 years of age, Geneva began playing the piano at the Second General Baptist Church. She adds, "I wasn't any good." It didn't stop her. She kept playing and became even more active in the church which was located in an old wooden structure behind the current Risen Church. The old building was torn down.
"I was raised up in church," Geneva reflects. "It's all I've ever known."
Her devotion led to many jobs in the church, including Sunday School teacher, music director, directing a youth choir and "anything they would let me do."
She also wrote material for the General Baptist Foundation located in Poplar Bluff, including tracts for primary Sunday School, the Jr. Christian Endeavor and the Women's Love Guild devotions.
After several years at Second General Baptist, Geneva says, "I got the baptism of the Holy Ghost."
Her husband struggled with it for a while but came to understand, she relates.
"I had to follow the Holy Spirit."
There was a time when Geneva wanted to be ordained as a minister, but that did not materialize. Her real love was Christian music, so she continued her music ministry.
She has attended several churches since her baptism. In every one of them she has given of her musical talents. She attended the Assembly of God, Victory Temple and now attends the Southwest Church of the Nazarene where she still plays the piano.
Her husband Chuck died just a few months before their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple has three children: Mike, Patty and Gale.
Thirty years ago Geneva started another pursuit, joining the Senior Citizen's Choir. At that time the activities were held at the Housing Authority Community Room off North Locust Street. Later they moved to what was then called the Nutrition Center, now the OAKS Nutrition Center or the Senior Center on Stoddard Street. Lawrence Veith led the choir. She also sang in the Gospel Five with Veith. The two later married in 1999.
"I had known Lawrence for 50 years," says Geneva.
Lawrence died in 2007.
She continues to sing and play with the choir, which at one point had dropped to about six to eight regulars. Since then it has rebounded and now has about 30 members, with an average of 20 members who perform at the Senior Center and nursing homes. They also sing at revivals and at area churches on special occasions.
Geneva credits much of the growth to Marita Atherton, who became the choir director five years ago.
"The Lord has really blessed the Senior Choir," Geneva says.
They have been asked to perform at various churches on Sunday nights but decided against it. The choir is made up of people from about 14 different churches, and the choir members want to attend their own services.
Melissa Green is the oldest member still singing in the choir at 92 years of age. She is followed by Lois Roberts at 88 years. Geneva also makes sure to recognize Harold Zimmerman who has been the bassist for the choir for many years. "Just call him Mr. Faithful," Geneva says.
Through all of her various music ministries, Geneva has witnessed God's faithfulness and is proud of the many accomplishments she has been a part of along the way, most notably her piano students. Always believing in both the talented and those simply gave it their all, she watched each one grow and find success.
"It doesn't make any difference how small your gift is," says Geneva, "as long as you use what you've got, God will bless you. God has been good to me."