If buildings could talk, Pease Auditorium in Ypsilanti, on College Place between Cross and Forest, would be boasting about its one hundredth birthday celebration which reached a crescendo on March 22, 2015 with a gala of historic importance. Under the imaginative and creative leadership of Dr. Diane Winder, head of the Department of Music and Dance at Eastern Michigan University, this historic building was glorified over the course of an entire year with a variety of events ranging from small displays to concerts, dance performances, lectures, the installation of stained glass windows and an honorary plaque. Winder said that she “wanted to make a year-long celebration that the department, campus and community could enjoy and take part in.” To accomplish this, all appropriate departments at Eastern Michigan University were asked for their input and participation. This included the Convocation Center, the Provost’s and President’s offices, Marketing, Halle Library, the EMU Foundation, Communications Department, and the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce, among others. It took about 18 months of monthly meetings by a five-person steering committee, with help from various departments, to plan and execute the birthday celebration. Pease Auditorium was constructed in 1914 and was dedicated in June, 1915. It was named after Ypsilanti resident Frederic Pease, who not only began the first music department of the then Michigan State Normal College, but was also a vibrant and energetic member of the Ypsilanti Community and co-founder of the Ypsilanti Musical Union. He was one of the first to teach teachers how to instruct their own students about music and for this purpose authored several textbooks on how to teach music. He also conducted choirs, taught both piano and organ, and composed music – including popular sheet music, operettas and hymns. He was a very popular teacher and man, noted for his dry wit, winning smile, and enthusiastic encouragement of staff and students. The auditorium had always been a dream of Frederic Pease, and after he died suddenly in 1909, the dream started to become a reality. It was designed by the architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman and Gryllis of Detroit in a Classical-Revival style highlighted by Corinthian columns on the building’s façade. Originally it was to have been named for John D. Pierce, the first Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, a petition was soon circulated throughout the town of Ypsilanti and the college campus requesting that this elegant structure be named, instead, for the man who had devoted 45 years of his life to the teacher training program and shaping it with his intelligence, wit, insight, creativity, integrity and love. Who could have imagined when the building was dedicated in June, 1915 that it would have had so much impact over 100 years for both the town and the college? Dignitaries and performers who have graced its stage include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Activist Julian Bond, Nobel scientist Linus Pauling, “Roots” author Alex Haley, actress Cicely Tyson, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, poet e.e. Cummings, Dr. Martin Luther King, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and many others.. Even to this day, the auditorium is the busy hub linking the “gown with the town” with a schedule of impressive performances adding to those who have performed at Pease including The Joffrey Ballet, opera singers Beverly Sills and William Warfield, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Arianna String Quartet, Marvin Hamlisch, The Temptations, Pearl Bailey, country singer Merle Haggard, jazz greats Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis, and jazz drummer Louis Bellson. The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984 at a time that it was showing its age. By then this once elegant structure, famous for its acoustics, was plagued by a noisy radiator system, crumbling plaster, outdated and broken sound systems, and a general run down appearance. In 1990 the beautiful and impressive doors of Pease Auditorium were locked when the building was deemed too unsafe and decayed to be used again. Both the city and the university community were unwilling to allow this historic and once vital building to be demolished. Under the imaginative leadership of the then Head of the Music Department, James B. Hause, the “Friends of Pease” support group was formed and soon rallied under the cry of “Give Pease a Chance” with a campaign goal of raising a daunting 5.7 million dollars. Once again the community and university came together in support of Pease Auditorium. Susan McKenzie, Steven Raglan, Ronald Miller, Barbara Weiss, Val Kabat, Peggy Pursell, Arnold Kumerow, Kristy Meretta, and many others worked hard to “Give Pease a Chance.” The money raised exceeded this goal and the auditorium was tastefully updated, the building restored, and Pease opened for the 1995 season with a number of celebratory events. During this restoration, the legendary Frederick Alexander Memorial Organ, which had been installed in 1960 was carefully packed away in thousands of pieces. With persistence, dedication and the hard work of both Eastern Michigan University and Ypsilanti Community leaders, money was raised and on April 6, 2001, the vibrant and impressive organ was again resonating throughout Pease Auditorium. Thus, through dedication, vision, dreams, commitment, and hard work, Pease Auditorium was well-ready to boast of its 100 year history. “The 100th anniversary of Pease Auditorium represents a significant and proud moment in Eastern Michigan’s 165 year history,” said Dr. Diane Winder, head of the EMU Music Department. She stated in an article dated May 1, 2014, written by Geoff Larcom, “We are recognizing this celebration in numerous ways around campus, so everyone can get in on the excitement.” The auditorium itself was decorated with two large banners gracing the entrance. Eight light-post banners on streets surrounding the building celebrated Pease Auditorium’s special place in the history of Eastern Michigan University. This was funded by the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce. There was a small exhibit in McKenny Hall highlighting Pease photographs and memorabilia. Foam core cutouts of Frederic Pease, along with 10 signs on easels and small displays were placed throughout the campus. The official year-long celebration began with a performance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Pease Auditorium on June 27, 2014. This event was made even more magical by the EMU Foundation which created a gala dinner/reception attended by several hundred participants who were greeted and served by students in period costumes. A commemorative booklet was distributed with a history of Frederic Pease, the Pease Auditorium, and the Aeolian-Skinner organ. Coincidently, the DSO was scheduled to perform a concert for the initial opening of the auditorium in 1915, but work on it was not completed by their scheduled date, so it played instead in an alternative building on the campus of the Normal College. Winder stated that “During the entire Pease Centennial, the Foundation ran a specific Pease donation campaign, asking for $500 in order to ‘buy a seat’.” The money raised will be used as part of an endowment for the continuing preservation of the auditorium. In October, 2014, another event, The Ypsilanti Community’s Third Chautauqua at the Riverside Arts Center, featured Eastern Michigan University Orchestra conductor Dr. Kevin Miller, providing an informative and interesting illustrated lecture about the history of Pease Auditorium. Five members of the Pease family were guests. The celebrations continued with EMU faculty member, Dr. Whitney Prince, honoring the work of Frederic Pease and the centennial of the auditorium, with an original composition “College and Cross,” which was performed at Pease Auditorium on November 22, 2014 by the Wind Symphony. Prince wrote that “After studying various scores in the University Archives, I decided that Pease’s setting of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ was best suited for use. I chose it for the woodwind quintet because I thought it would work well for those instruments and it would make the piece more appropriate for use during a secular occasion…” He shared the notes that he wrote about the piece. “If ever an individual deserved to have a building named in their honor, it was Frederic H. Pease, Professor of Music and first director of the Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) Conservatory of Music. Pease was a highly esteemed performer, conductor, composer, educator, and administrator who profoundly impacted musical life in Ypsilanti and Michigan for nearly 50 years. Six years after his death, in 1909, the school’s new auditorium located at the intersection of College Place and Cross Street, was named for this beloved and highly respected professor. ‘College and Cross’ is based on motives from Pease’s 1906 setting of the Lord’s Prayer, the only work by Pease that was performed at both his memorial service and at the dedication of the auditorium. It is offered in humble tribute to this historic structure and to the man whose name it bears.” Also in November 14, 2014, Dr. Winder added that “the Department of Music and Dance created a magical year of Pease programming. For example, Robert Peavler, baritone, presented an interdisciplinary recital ‘Lads in their Hundreds’ featuring songs from WW1 (1914 specifically) complete with dancers, narrations and a slide show.” There were other tributes made to the Pease Auditorium and Frederic Pease including a documentary video which can be viewed on YouTube (see link at the end of this article). Perhaps one of the most unusual, poignant, and understated efforts by Dr. Winder was the search for and discovery of a Pease family heirloom – a 17th century grandfather clock which was donated to Eastern Michigan University by family members in honor of both Frederic Pease and his first wife, who was once his music student, the beautiful Josephine Van Dolzen. Seemingly forgotten, without any identifying plaque, Dr. Winder discovered the clock on prominent display in the President’s House, but because the clock had been donated nearly 50 years before, and without any sort of plaque on it, its significance had been forgotten. Her sleuthing did not end there. Tragically, Frederic Pease’s wife Josephine died in childbirth with her 8th child and was buried with the baby at Highland Cemetery. Frederic, heartbroken and dismayed, commissioned a stained glass window to be created and installed at St. Luke’s Church on North Huron Street in Ypsilanti where he was organ master and an honored parishioner. Over time, the window was placed in storage. Dr. Winder, along with graduate student in Historic Preservation, Ceci Riecker, met with church officials and arranged for permanent loan of the window. Riecker then contacted John Donegan, Vice President of the Eastern Michigan University Physical Plant. Dr. Winder wrote “He was very interested and excited by the prospect of moving them to campus. In fact his office has solidified the relationship with St. Luke’s, transported the windows in pieces to EMU, and had the ‘shop’ first build the frame for the windows, then install them expertly into the spaces in Pease. A third and final piece of the Pease windows probably will be on display in a new exhibit area in McKenny Hall.” She, along with the steering committee, also arranged for a commemorative brass plaque to be made and installed in Pease Auditorium honoring Frederic Pease. The decorative and tasteful plaque bears a picture of this distinguished man with the wording “Frederic H. Pease (1839-1909) Educator, performer, conductor, author, composer, community leader and friend Honoring his 45 years as Chair (1864-1909) of the Department of Music and Conservatory at Michigan State Normal School.” This brings us to the glorious and historic day of the Centennial Celebration March 22, 2015. While researching and writing my extensive biography of Frederic Pease published earlier in the Gleanings, I was in contact with a number of his descendants and was made an honorary “adoptee” as a Pease family member. I was thrilled when representatives of four generations, ranging from great grandchildren to g-g-g-g grandchildren, 22 in all, traveled from throughout the nation to come to Ypsilanti to attend this event; many of them are graduates of Eastern Michigan University. They were welcomed at a reception before the performance by college president Dr. Susan Martin and led on a tour of the auditorium by Dr. Winder. Copies of the plaque along with a book on the history of Pease Auditorium and stationary with a drawing of it by music professor and artist, Amos Nelson, were given to each descendant and then a presentation was given to them by Dr. Kevin Miller about the history of Pease Auditorium. A free concert followed, attended by both town and gown. I saw handkerchiefs come out and tears wiped away by a few of the descendants of Pease during the program. The program included a variety of both dance and musical performances involving over 150 staff and students. Remarks were made by Dr. Thomas K. Venner, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, President Susan Martin, and Dr. Diane L. Winder. Dr. Martin honored the memory of Frederic Pease by inviting each of the descendants to come up on stage. The audience gave their appreciation in the form of hearty applause. This celebration of the life of a man and the impressive auditorium named after him was culminated with a reception at Roosevelt Hall. Afterwards, members of the family reflected on the day’s festivities. Great granddaughter Cynthia Luce of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan stated “The 100 year celebration was an absolutely wonderful tribute to my great grandfather, Frederic H. Pease. It gave me a glimpse of a living man not just a name on a building.” Another great granddaughter, Roz Peters, related “It was great to learn about an ancestor I had heard so much about as a child. For the most part, all I knew about Frederic Pease was that there was a building named after him at EMU. Other than that it was just a name of a relative I had never met. But now it was great to find out how admired he was and how much his students loved him, and also great to learn of his sarcastic wit which is a family tradition. I wish I could’ve met him.” Talking about the performances, “On another note, how spectacular the music was at the Pease event. It was so diverse and interesting and beautiful. I loved it. Hats off to the music department.” Great-great granddaughters, Edith King Schmitz, from Waterford, Michigan and her sister, Margery King Webb, from Phoenix, Arizona were very moved to view the newly installed Josephine Pease stained glass windows and stated that their grandmother would have loved to see them in their new home in Pease Auditorium. Webb also described a story that had been handed down in their family about how the memory of their ancestor Frederic Pease had saved her grandmother Margery Hewitt Pease and her sister Josephine Van Dolzen Pease from expulsion from EMU. It seems that the two girls, who were students at the Normal, were caught smoking in the woman’s bathroom and would have been expelled if it were not for their grandfather’s memory. Webb related “How lucky our family is to have been treated to this Grand Gala Celebration for Grandfather Frederic Henry Pease.” Great-great grandson Peter Hartz, of Keene, New Hampshire, was also impressed with all of the work that the maintenance department had done to not only transport the windows from St. Luke’s church on North Huron Street in Ypsilanti, but the skill in providing such a beautiful setting with a back light to illuminate them. My husband and I felt that the day had been perfect, with only one thing missing - the presence of Frederic and Josephine Pease. One couldn’t help but wonder though if they were there in spirit as we celebrated the life of this “man of all seasons” and beautiful Pease Auditorium where so much history has occurred over one hundred years. The next time that you attend a concert or event at Pease Auditorium, spend a quiet moment or two gazing at the bronze plaque and the beautiful stained glass windows. Perhaps you will have the same sense that I did that perhaps buildings do talk in their own way and this one speaks of both love and commitment of Ypsilanti and Eastern Michigan University. ONLINE ENRICHMENT OPPORTUNITIES: Video about the history of Pease Auditorium – Go to YouTube.com then search for “Eastern Michigan University Pease Auditorium”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?V=LVD6rt15an
Biography of Frederic H. Pease, A Man for All Seasons by Janice Anschuetz in The Ypsilanti Historical Society Gleanings - Go to http://ypsigleanings.aadl.org/ypsigleanings/219318
Photographs of the 100th anniversary event in Pease Auditorium - Go to http://photos.emich.edu/p339820591
Hear Little Dorrit Polka, 1871 sheet music written by Frederic Pease, played on piano by Robert Anschuetz - Go to YouTube.com then search for “Little Dorrit Polka Pease”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJH_Zi7e3eQ
Hear a reading of Frederic Pease’s 1881 letter written to his Ypsilanti friend Frederick Swaine - Go to YouTube.com and search for “Jessie Swaine Interview Ypsilanti Michigan”, or go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVD6rt15anc
Several of Frederic Henry Pease’s textbooks on teaching music are on Google Books for free download.
(Janice Anschuetz is a local history buff and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)
Photo 1: Drawing of Frederic Pease.
Photo 2: Frederic Pease as a young man.
Photo 3: Mrs. Frederic Pease (Josephine).
Photo 4: Pease Auditorium 100 year banner.