When Anna Mae Boehmer started piano lessons when she was little, her feet could barely reach the pedals of the instrument. On Sunday, December 19, those same feet stood near the altar of the Washington Presbyterian Church, where Boehmer was honored as the church’s longest-serving choir member.
“They gave me a plaque and flowers and a lot of hugs. I was devastated, ”said Boehmer. “I was just absolutely had.”
Coach Emily Bounds said no one else in the group “comes close” to Boehmer’s choral years.
Boehmer, now 86, joined the choir in 1946, when she was 12, and has performed with the group almost every Sunday for 75 years. She spent around 243,000 minutes training or performing with the band and has been directed by several different directors, most recently Aaron Bounds.
“She’s just a staple,” he said of Boehmer.
Boehmer said music has always been a part of his life. Growing up, she was drawn to the dark-wood upright piano her mother had received for free from a newspaper list decades earlier – Boehmer still has the piano in her basement. She took lessons from Nila Bourne on Main Street, who at the time was choirmaster and organist at the Presbyterian Church.
“Usually they didn’t put people in the choir until they were 14, but very few sopranos were lacking. So she blackmailed me for her, ”Boehmer said. “That’s how I ended up in the choir when I was young.”
Each week, Boehmer walked from his childhood home about five blocks east of the hospital to the Presbyterian Church, then located on Fourth and Market streets. She said she quickly felt accepted by most of the older choir members, including one particularly special member.
“My dad (Charles Wolking) and I were in the choir together for a while. I guess I kind of took after him, ”she said. “My father was a great tenor. Handsome tenor, and he was a lover.
Boehmer also felt the influence of his family whenever the choir was accompanied on the church organ, which his great-great-aunts had donated before he was born.
Boehmer said she was the closest to leaving the choir around the time she and her late husband Wilbert, whom she married in church in 1955, welcomed their son Charles and daughter Denise.
Boehmer had told her friends Etta “Boots” Bonney and Jeri Brockman that she should step down, and both insisted that she stay in the group.
“They took turns looking at them, sometimes arguing over who could keep the baby,” Boehmer said with a laugh. “That’s how I was able to stay in the choir when my children were young.
As her children grew up, Boehmer also led songs during Sunday School, where accompanist Emily Bounds met her.
Some of Boehmer’s favorite hymns to sing along include “How Great Thou Art,” a Swedish hymn originally composed by Carl Boberg and made popular during Billy Graham’s Crusades; “Amazing Grace”, written by the Englishman John Newton, a former slave trader turned ardent abolitionist; and “In the Garden,” composed by Charles Austin Miles, an American pharmacist who left the industry in the early 1900s and wrote over 400 hymns.
“I remember her at the piano teaching us songs for church,” said Emily Bounds. “I’m a music teacher now, and a lot of my first musical experiences were with Anna Mae in church.
“She had a lot of impact on me, and even more than the music she has always been a steadfast and loyal person in my life.”
Aaron Bounds, who met Boehmer when he started leading the Presbyterian Church Choir in January 2019, described Boehmer as “the heart of the church”.
“Anna Mae is more than the choir. She makes coffee every Sunday, she makes sure the dresses are clean and (establishes) fellowship. She (manages) all the details, ”said Aaron Bounds. “She’s like a low hum. You always know she’s there.
Emily Bounds said she fondly remembers Boehmer’s famous ground roast beef for the sandwiches that were an essential church meal offering when Bounds was growing up. Boehmer said she also liked to bring a macaroni salad and angel food cake.
For the Bounds family, Boehmer’s consistency is evident not only in his dedication to the choir, but also in his work throughout the church.
“You can tell when Anna Mae looks at you that you are loved,” Emily Bounds said. “She is consistent with her love for everyone in the church.”
As Boehmer nears her 90s, she said she can’t promise she will sing with the choir forever, but is grateful for the seven-plus decades of singing.
“Ms. Bourne would just be thrilled if she knew I was still singing,” Boehmer said. “But I just appreciate her.”