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Former music teacher was 'life force' in Grand Forks schools, community

Rosemary Wharton loved her music students and they loved her back. Former students and other teachers said this recently as they spoke with delight about a Grand Forks woman whose whimsical and fun nature made class "magical." Wharton, a longtime...

Rosemary Wharton
Rosemary Wharton

Rosemary Wharton loved her music students and they loved her back.

Former students and other teachers said this recently as they spoke with delight about a Grand Forks woman whose whimsical and fun nature made class "magical."

Wharton, a longtime elementary music teacher in Grand Forks, died Jan. 4 in Roseville, Minn., where she had resided since 2011 at an assisted living facility. She was 87.

Many, including Laurel Reuter, director of the North Dakota Museum of Art , said she was a life force in the schools and the community.

"She was passionate and she was kind and she just loved music ," said Reuter. "There was a gentleness in her but also a drive for excellence."

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Tom Brosseau, a Grand Forks native who travels the world as an American storyteller, songwriter and singer, said she influenced him "through demonstrating the importance of home and the importance of harmony."

At Viking Elementary School, she was an outstanding teacher because she made music fun, he wrote in an email. For student birthdays, she sat behind the piano and played a few bars of "Birthday" by The Beatles. She formed a barbershop quartet with elementary students, including Brosseau as a tenor. She instructed them on how to dress -- in white button-down shirts, bow ties, skimmer hats -- and how to move, he said.

Even for nonmusic courses, she had a magical touch, said Diane Persellin, a music professor in San Antonio who once was Wharton's student teacher. For one writing exercise, she had elementary students create fantastic, "fanciful" and "monstrous" sandwiches, then she brought all of the ingredients for them to build and eat them, she said.

"She had a fanciful humor that she would use that really resonated with them," she said. "She was always the teacher that I wanted to be."

Duane Christenson, a former English and theater teacher at Central High School, said she was also a consummate host and a wonderful conversationalist. But one of his career highlights was working with her on the musical "The Sound of Music." She began rehearsal by playing a selection from the Vienna Boys Choir and told the cast it was the sound they would be attempting to emulate, he said.

"Rosemary was an inspiration to them," she said. "They truly loved her as a human being. She was a dignified, gracious lady who was not only a good teacher but a wonderful human being."

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