Mu Phi Epsilon
Dallas Alumni Chapter

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From time to time I have interviewed members of our chapter so that we can get to know each other better.

Interview with Frances Stuart
by Mary Williams

Frances Stuart in the 1930s and in 2003
The smile hasn't changed, has it?

Sunday lunch this past September was the setting for an interview complete with scrapbook of past accomplishments, stories of early Dallas and a whirlwind tour through some of the life of Frances Stuart. Still active and teaching piano at age 92, Frances had the day off, and remembered for me some of her earlier days. We didn’t tape record the interview, but I did take lots of notes, and will paraphrase answers Frances gave me.  

Mary: You spoke at a Mu Phi meeting about growing up in Dallas in its early days. What are some of your fondest memories of people and places?
Frances: I have so many fond memories, it’s hard to know where to begin. After studying with Dr. Paul Van Katjwik at SMU, I was Dr. Van’s secretary for six years and then President of the Van Katjwik club for 30 years. The Van Katjwiks were certainly a prominent part of my life. Another highlight was playing the piano in 1934 at the Palace Theater in downtown Dallas in an ensemble of nine pianos, all hooked together. We played Rhapsody in Blue following the Marie Dressler shows; I played after two shows a day all week and earned $25 for the week. I also studied dance with Edith James and performed as a dancer in the 1930s with the Dallas Symphony and at the Summer Musicals. I was also organist for 3 ½ years at First Lutheran Church on Cole. It’s now a restaurant. I started out on a pump organ and wore a long white robe. Since there was no air conditioning, it was a pretty hot job.  
One memory I have is driving four teen-aged students to New York in my car with a rumble seat. I was 25 years old at the time. We went to have fun and to go to a Master Class. We also drove to Victoria, British Columbia to the Mu Phi National Convention in a 1932 Ford one year; remember, the roads weren’t that great back then. We had a flat in Idaho and some fellows from a construction crew helped us change the tire.

Mary: I had no idea you were so versatile! You’ve been an award winner in piano, too, haven’t you?  

Frances: Yes. In high school, I won the state contest of the Texas Federation of Music Clubs, giving me a scholarship to the New York School of Music and Arts to study with Arthur Friedheim, who had been a student of Liszt. I also won a scholarship in 1929 to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to study with Dr. Carol Liszniewski. I was listed in Who’s Who of American Women in 1977-78 and in the International Who’s Who in Music in 1988. I was awarded the Orah Ashley Lamke Award for Mu Phi Epsilon for distinguished alumni in 1986.  

Mary: And the Mu Phi award recognized your many years of service as chairperson of the Sunday Concert Series that our alumni chapter has sponsored.
Frances: Yes, I followed Cleo Furr who did it for many years, and then I did it for many years too.

Mary: I want to hear about your experiences in New York, but first, please fill me in on your essential biographical data.
Frances: I was born in Fort Worth. My dad was with the railroad. I didn’t stay there long, though, and when I was nine months old we moved to Dallas. We lived on Virginia Street in East Dallas. I had a lot of illness as a young child, but finally started piano lessons at age 8. I studied with Frances Taylor Rather, who was a graduate of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She had a piano in every room in her house.  
My father died when I was 9, so my mother struggled to support us. My uncle built a duplex for my mother where we lived and she rented the other side. She was a dressmaker and also made money by hand copying music for 10 cents a line. I graduated from Highland Park High School.
At 14 I won the Dallas Federation Contest and went to the state contest in Houston where I won that. The first prize was a scholarship to the New York School of Music and Arts. I didn’t go the year I won it, but I went when I was 15 for 10 weeks. My mother went with me. Arthur Friedheim was my teacher. He had been a student of Liszt and had edited the Chopin studies. He also taught Van Cliburn’s mother. Chopin and Liszt are some of my favorite composers. I also remember him teaching me, “It isn’t what you teach, but what the student understands.”
I continued my studies with Mrs. Rather, taking streetcars over to East Dallas – with three changes. When I was 16 she helped me get a scholarship to Cincinnati for 10 weeks. There I had a roommate who practices six hours a day, so I had to too, to keep up with her. When I was there I studied with Dr. Carol Liszniewski and had a wonderful experience. I completed the Piano Normal course there with Frank Warner, the pedagogy instructor and earned a Teacher’s Certificate. Of course I already had been teaching students since I was 14.
I spent three summers directing music at the Camp Fire Girls’ camp and coached the same operetta each year.  

Mary: And you went to SMU.
Frances: Yes. I didn’t really want to go there. But my mother had heart trouble and we lived just two blocks from SMU. So I lived at home and walked to school. I was really glad I went there, as I studied with Dr. Van Katjwik for piano, with Mrs. Horace M. Whaling in organ and with Mrs. J. Roscoe Golden for voice, and did very well. I was very active and held offices in a lot of organizations – Mu Phi Epsilon, the Arden Dramatic Club, the Light Opera Club, Decima and Mortar Board, Delta Gamma, the Choral Club and the Van Katwijk Club. I was president of the Mu Chi chapter and represented our chapter at convention as the business delegate and music delegate. I performed in Choral Club productions and finished college in three years, graduating with honors.  

Mary: You were a busy person!
Frances: Yes, I really was. Over the years I have been active in Dallas Federation of Music Clubs, National Guild of Piano Teachers, Hall of Fame of Piano Guild USA, judge for National Guild of Piano Teachers, Piano Auditions chairman for the Van Katwijk Club (for 20 years) and president of Van Katwijk Club, English Speaking Union, DAR, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas County Heritage Society and the National Trust. And I participated in master classes and had students doing all sorts of things too.

Mary: How did you meet your husband, John?
Frances: I met John at a costume party at the Adolphus Hotel. My sorority put it on. John was there with some fraternity friends from University of Texas, where he was in school. We met our senior year. I thought he was cute, but I had other things to do at the time. When he finished architecture school at UT, he came back to Dallas, where he was from. He became a homebuilder and built the Irving Recreation Center, designed a planned community and built the home we lived in on University Ave. But illness changed our circumstances and we moved to the house on Maplewood where I still live. John died in 1994.

Mary: Didn’t you get involved in restoring a church in England? How did that come about?  

Frances: Yes, John’s ancestors came from a small town west of London – Tyrell. We went there by train and then walked to see if we could find his ancestors’ graves. We found the town, the church and churchyard, but the church was not being used because it was so dilapidated. It was scheduled to be torn down. Well, we stirred up interest in saving the church and got an article in the Chelmsford paper with headlines “Texan wants to save church.” So local people formed a committee to raise money to restore the church, and we got donors over here. Stanley Marcus helped and the University of Virginia. Ten years later we went back to attend a rededication of the restored church.  
We were also fortunate to travel to China back in 1978 when traveling there was not common.

Mary: And your children?
Frances: We had two children – John now lives in California. My grandson teaches film writing at a junior college in Portland, and my granddaughter is a dancer at Disneyland. Our daughter Betty Lynn died when she was almost 7 of a sudden upper respiratory infection. Her death was so sudden that it was a real shock to us. We donated the piano at the library in her memory. I also have a beautiful extended family of 2 nieces and a nephew and their children, one of whom will be a Symphony Deb in February.  

Mary: Many people have played on the piano, and it is a wonderful gift that lives on. What has Mu Phi meant to you in your life?
Frances: The friendships have been the most important. It was also wonderful to keep in shape performing, and hearing great programs. Of course I contributed about 20 years to the concert series too. That program started at the Art Museum, in the courtyard, in 1937. Then Mu Phi took it over in 1939. We moved to the Public Library many years ago, and now Edie Pfautsch has booked programs there for another 11 years. We received a Beautification Award from the City of Dallas for having free concerts available to the people of Dallas.

Mary: I know you put in a lot of work into those programs. What are you doing now for fun? What interests do you have?
Frances: I loved dancing and until I married I danced with the Edith James performing group. But now I go to Baker Fitness Center, where I participated in a study on exercise for people over 80. Toni Beck is instructor. I found their program working with weights and stretching very helpful. I fractured my spine in a fall in 2000 when I missed a step. It has healed but still hurts sometimes. I belong to the DAR, Mu Phi, the Van Katwijk Club, Dallas Music Teachers Association, Mortar Board and Delta Gamma. I enjoy decorating, and when John was in business, I decorated houses for his company.

Mary: Any concluding thoughts?
Frances: I would just say that I’ve had a full life and I still love life. I try to give scholarships to help people who love music. What would my life have been like without music??? I can’t even imagine.
Mary: Thanks, Frances.

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