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Photo of the Month
March 2024

See Previous Photos       Unknown Faces and Places


Ethel conducting the Studebaker Chorus 
Standing at far left, Ethel (Stuart) Gaumer directs the famed Studebaker Male Chorus of the giant Indiana-based automobile manufacturer. In this image, they perform in the employee dining room and wearing work clothes.

Ethel was the wife of Willard “Floyd” Gaumer of the family of William Franklin and Ella Frances (Jones) Gaumer. She was a talented pianist, organist and singer who was prominent in the community of South Bend, IN for decades.

An alumna of Eastern Illinois Normal College in Charleston, IL, Ethel began her career as an elementary school teacher, instructing in all subjects for four years. In 1920, she was hired as organist and choir director for St. Paul's Memorial United Methodist Church in South Bend. After several years she joined the staff of Westminister Presbyterian Church. In time, she became employed in 1930 by the Cathedral of St. James Episcopal Church as organist/choir master and held the role for 39 years until her retirement in May 1969.

In 1953, she is known to have traveled to Washington, DC to take part in the 62nd annual convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, in Constitution Hall, devoted to "Americanism, problems of youth and activities of clubwomen around the world," said the Pittsburgh Press. Vice President Richard M. Nixon opened the event with remarks, with Ethel conducting a choir of philharmonic singers in a performance.

Perhaps Ethel's highest-profile extended accomplishment was her 27 years as conductor of the Studebaker Male Chorus. Formed in December 1930, it was comprised of workers from the car-maker's assembly line, body plantsfoundry, machine shops and offices, involving dozen nationalities and nearly as many religious affiliations. The group's portfolio included more than 300 memorized songs. The chorus performed at the Century of Progress in Chicago, the Chicago Music Festival and on radio networks nationwide. For 16 years, she also led the Studebaker Girls' Glee Club and Mixed Chorus. Said the South Bend Tribune, "She was the first person to play the Deagon Carillon Official Chimes of the Century of Progress in Chicago in 1934 [and] played them by means of telegraph keys set up in the Oliver Hotel in South Bend. She was the first city-wide music chairman for National Music Week, [and] first manager of the Chicagoland Music Festival preliminaries in Michigan City."

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