Piano donated to FOA in memory of Opal McDaniel

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Pictured is Susan Johnson, SAI President (seated). From left --Ellen McDaniel, daughter of the donor of the piano; Kristi Pulliam, executive/artistic director FOA; Pat Qualls, SAI program chair

The late Mrs. McDaniel played for silent movies in Spirit Lake, Iowa

The Jonesboro Alumnae & Patroness Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for Women in Music, has provided a much needed piano for the Foundation of Arts (FOA). The idea started when SAI member Julia Lansford learned of the need for a piano at the FOA's Stage, Too location at the corner of Main and Monroe. Shortly after that, a caregiver for 105 year old Opal McDaniel, who had passed away last July, mentioned to member Pat Qualls that Ms. McDaniel had a piano her daughter wanted to donate to a good cause.

When Qualls looked at the piano, a Baldwin Acrosonic Console piano, she knew it was a well-made, quality piano, even though it was 50 years old. Lansford and Qualls pitched the idea of donating the piano to FOA to Susan Johnson, president of the local chapter. SAI chapter members enthusiastically supported this service project and agreed to pay to the cost of moving the piano to Stage, Too.

Mrs. McDaniel taking time to relax on the golf courses.

Kristi Pulliam, executive/artistic director for FOA, is thrilled to have a piano at Stage, Too which is used for weekly classes as well as theatre classes and rehearsals prior to moving to the Forum stage. In the past they have had to move an electronic keyboard in and out of the Forum. Now there will be a permanent acoustic piano. SAI also provided Piano wheels so that it can be easily moved throughout the area.

Other events held at Stage, Too include "Open Mic Night" and smaller venue shows. With the gift of the piano, pianists will now be afforded the opportunity to entertain. Pulliam said that Opal McDaniel's legacy lives on through the arts.

Opal McDaniel's daughter, Ellen McDaniel, recalled that her mother had a passion for music, starting her career during high school playing for silent movies in Spirit Lake, Iowa. She attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. She taught piano and played organ in her church. Her daughter stated that during the depression her Mother would watch movies to study the fashionable clothing the actresses wore, which she would then copy and sew to wear the next week. Opal McDaniel was passionate about her music and throughout her life was a big supporter of the arts.

Opal McDaniel passed away earlier this year at the age of 105. She played the piano in the silent movies while in high school.

Opal was born in 1909 in Iowa. One of the things she is most proud of is a picture of her in a Red Wolf Shirt because ASU and she were born in the same year. She moved to Jonesboro in 2004. Roxanne Keiter became Opal's caregiver the last six years of her life, when Opal was 99. Keiter recalls many interesting stories from Opal's life. One story Opal recalled was as a young child riding in a carriage in Iowa with her parents. When they turned the corner Opal slid out of the carriage, never hitting the ground, as the snow banks were so tall. She also recalled entering a dance contest as a young lady and winning a rubber swim suit.

Several years ago Riverside East teacher, Janis Faulkner, asked Opal to speak to the elementary school children about experiences from her long life. The children were amazed when she told about the silent movies not having any sound, while she played the piano along with the movie. Another story she told was of having ration stamps during the war with which to purchase items. She lost the stamp with which to purchase shoes for her newborn daughter. So, for the first year she had no shoes to wear.

During the war Opal's husband would buy sugar by large amounts and the ladies in the neighborhood would come to their house to borrow sugar. Opal showed the children pictures of her grandpa in the wheat field thrashing wheat. It was difficult for the children to believe he was thrashing wheat by hand as they were used to seeing huge equipment in the fields.

During the student's question and answer session, Opal was asked to name her favorite President. She quickly replied, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Keiter recalled that Opal stayed very active past her 100th birthday, entering some craft items in the fair and winning several ribbons.

Johnson said she plans to submit this Service Project to National SAI for special recognition and honors. The Alumnae and Patroness Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota in Jonesboro strives to honor our love of music by performing service projects in our community. We hope to be advocates for music education in ways that will inspire and support musicians of all ages. This project with the FOA is a perfect fit for us and a win-win situation for our community. The group hopes this partnership will strengthen and nurture a connection with a new generation that started with a young girl's love for music almost a century ago.

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