Margaret Whipp, 98
Margaret Whipp, a resident of Elkhorn, Nebraska since 2010, left us on March 19, 2020. She was 98. For many decades, Margaret was a musical Johnny Appleseed – teaching, sharing, and spreading the joy of music. She firmly believed that everyone could sing, and could enjoy singing, and she set about to make this happen throughout her lifetime. Margaret was a private person, yet she loved to perform, and held command of the rehearsal room and the stage.
Her younger years
Born Margaret Jane Gray in Corning, Iowa on February 3, 1922, she spent her childhood in various southern Iowa communities before her family moved to Des Moines, where she graduated from North High. Margaret grew up in a musical family. Her pharmacist father had his own jazz band. Her mother was an accomplished pianist, who developed great sight-reading skills while playing for silent movies as a teenager.
Margaret received music degrees from Simpson College, and was the president of her sorority. She met her future husband, Forrest Whipp, while they were students at Simpson. Margaret’s first teaching job following her 1943 graduation was in Dysart IA, and she and Forrest were married in Omaha NE later that year.
Her teaching career
After moving with Forrest to the rural Lenox IA area, Margaret taught in Clearfield and Creston on flexible work schedules while their children were young. A few years later, Margaret was recruited by several Lenox community leaders to teach in its schools. Except for a couple of years when she taught in Des Moines during her mother’s illness, Margaret spent the balance of her teaching career in Lenox.
Perhaps the most notable early career recognition for Margaret was when a Lenox high school girls trio she directed won a national competition in Miami FL in the late 40’s. It was a big deal for the community at that time – and for Margaret, since it enhanced her teaching credentials very early in her career.
As the years rolled on, the success of the Lenox vocal music program under Margaret’s leadership continued to grow. She created many types of musical activities and performances, including solo and duet, smaller chorales, larger choruses, and operettas. All of this required not only many singers, but a cadre of accompanists whose skills were honed under Margaret’s tutelage. She gave some private lessons, and helped to secure college scholarships for those interested in music careers.
One of the greatest sources of pride for the students involved in vocal performance was their impact at small and large group contests. At every small group event, Lenox would have the greatest number of performers, with a whole series (often 3 or 4 deep) of girls and boys quartets, sextets, double quartets and sextets, soloists, duets, madrigals, and so forth taking the stage. And, at every large group contest, the Lenox girls and boys choruses and the combined mixed chorus often outnumbered the other schools by two- or three-fold.
Music in the community
During her time in the Lenox and surrounding communities, Margaret spread the joy of music in many ways. She played the piano or organ or sang for countless weddings, funerals, and celebrations. She and Forrest sang duets at many events. She was an organist for the Lenox United Presbyterian Church her entire adult life. Later in her career, Margaret organized annual Easter cantata choruses, in which she brought together former students and other adult community members to sing challenging music. As frequently happened in her school programs, unsuspecting members of the group would often end up in key roles – with trepidation – but with rewarding results.
On the move
First as a young family, and then in later years, Margaret and Forrest loved to travel. In the early years, there were summer camping vacations, with Colorado a favorite destination. There were tents, then better tents, then a pop-up camper, then a basic travel trailer, then finally a trailer with a shower and A/C. These also became shelters with friends over many decades at the state fair.
After their children left home, Margaret and Forrest began a 25-year quest of international travel, including many journeys throughout mainland Europe, the United Kingdom, the Scandinavian countries, Northern Africa, and much of Asia, as well as several Soviet bloc countries before the Berlin wall came down. When foreign travel became too demanding, they bought a custom van, and traveled with friends throughout most of the lower 48. They also took a few cruises, and were conveniently stranded on a cruise ship on 9-11.
A few little-known facts about Margaret: She sang for WWII troops during college with a Des Moines-based dance band and declined an offer to move with the band to Los Angeles, she did “Rosie the Riveter” duty at a California aircraft factory with her sister, she passed on the chance to study piano performance in New York City to marry her young farmer husband, her first year teaching income paid for her living expenses, a new winter coat, and tractor tires for Forrest, she bought a mail-order refrigerator during the war before their rented house had electricity, and she designed their Lenox house with “only a few touches” by the architect. And, Margaret loved color. This showed up in colorful clothing for the family, in colorful houses, and in a whole series of red automobiles, starting with a 1951 Pontiac special-ordered with convertible-only red paint. Margaret’s marriage to Forrest (a marriage of over 66 years) was kept secret during her first year of teaching because married women “didn’t need a job.” And, she was not crazy about a couple of Forrest’s hobbies, and rarely rode with him on his motorcycles or in the Cessna’s.
Margaret was predeceased by her father Erastus Reagan Gray, mother Dorothy Loper Gray, husband Forrest in 2010, sister Mildred Hansen and husband Ted of Marysville CA, and daughter-in-law, Pamela Whipp. She is survived by son Dennis Whipp of San Rafael CA, daughter Janet Robinson and husband Stephen, granddaughter Sarah Robinson, grandson Joseph Robinson and wife Nicole, and great grandsons Charles, Samuel and William Robinson, all of Omaha, and granddaughter Jennifer Zebrack and husband John, and great grandchildren, Jane and Joshua Zebrack, all of Reno NV.
No funeral or celebration of life is planned due to current COVID-19 restrictions. Interment will be at North Fairview Cemetery in Lenox. Memories may be shared with the family at www.ritchiefuneralhome.com under Obituaries. Arrangements were entrusted to the Ritchie Funeral Home of Lenox where we ‘Celebrate Life’.