Next to her family, Ruth Crissman’s life-long loves were teaching and music, much of it played on her upright Kimball piano that once belonged to her grandmother; now a centerpiece among several prized collections found at the Jonesville Historical Society.
Family friends of Crissman, Janie and Tom Westra, recently donated the piano to the society, of which Crissman was a long-time member.
“There was no doubt that we would have space for it,” said Historical Society board member Charles Mathis.
“Ruth was an active society member who organized local choirs and musicians in Old Jonesville Day and Jonesville Jubilee celebrations. She will forever be part of our lives and memories. She was a special person to everyone who met her,” he added.
Crissman directed the music at Jonesville Jubilee from its beginning and for at least 10 years, said Jonesville Historical Society Chairwoman Judy Wolfe.
In her early years, Crissman traveled with husband, the late Bob Crissman, who was Yadkin County Poet Laureate, a teacher and coach, journalist and author. She taught where her husband’s career took them, before returning to Yadkin County in the 1950s, where she taught at Jonesville Elementary School for 33 years.
Crissman’s impact on local music extended beyond the classroom walls into the communities around her. She played piano for the Jonesville First United Methodist Church, frequently sang at funerals, weddings and special events. She also performed with the Yadkin County Senior Chorus.
Wolfe said of the importance of the Jonesville Historical Society having such a gift as the at least 150-year-old Kimball piano of Crissman’s. “Having her piano represents the music that she shared and the music that was her vehicle for involving church groups and youth choirs for jubilee. She was part of our heritage and she represented a significant part of our heritage. She was a testament to our community. We are so proud to have it. She loved children, her students, she loved teaching, she loved her family and she loved her community. What greater testament to a community?”
The chairwoman added some may recall the early years of the Foothills Theater where Crissman’s vocal performances were featured in “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.” Through all the years and time spent with Crissman, both as members of the Jonesville History Society and friends, Wolfe said it would have to be Crissman’s Civil War songs that stand as personal favorite pieces.
Wolfe noted how Jonesville Historical Society members and friends of Crissman, John Wesley Mathis and Charles Mathis, recalled how she would chuckle “her familiar chuckle” when she described performing at the Governor’s Mansion with the Yadkin Senior Chorus. While at the Governor’s Mansion, Crissman delighted the Raleigh audience with one of her favorite break-out tunes, “Boogie Woogie.”
Several friends agree that “Boogie Woogie” could have been Crissman’s theme song in general. Heavily involved in the senior games and true to form, Crissman stayed in pitch but this time by playing the position of pitcher on the senior softball team. In addition, she played volleyball, participated in track and field events and when all was said and done, accumulated a mound of medals.
Last Christmas, Wolfe said some in the Jonesville Methodist Church congregation “stopped and stared” when during the “Hanging of the Green” gathering, a church member unexpectedly played recordings of Crissman’s music. Wolfe said Crissman never failed to have a chorus singing Christmas carols along with her when she played and sang around Christmas time.
Some of the Historical Society members recalled Ruth as having “a vibrant personality with a contagious chuckle and a twinkle in her eye.” Wolfe described her as the type of person whom people genuinely desired to be near and “effervescent.”
Mary Charles Gentry, one of Crissman’s closest friends, said, “She was a joy to be near, whether it was to hear her sing, play the piano or to be in her classroom. She encouraged students and peers to learn, to laugh and to love life.”
Wolfe added, “I remember what was the most fun was going into the church after midnight and ringing the bell.”
She emphasized that it became “Ruth’s annual New Year pilgrimage to lead family and friends in ringing the Methodist Church bell — not for just one celebratory toll, but for an extended period of time ensuring that those sleeping in the farthest corners of town were alerted to the arrival of the New Year.”
Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.