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Summer 2005 | Volume 28, Number 2 | Alumni

Former Seattle Pacific Choral Director Leads a New Choir With Some Old Friends

IT REQUIRES A SPECIAL GIFT to draw celestial music out of 25 senior citizens, some in their 80s and 90s. Lawrence R. Schoenhals, former director of choral programs at Seattle Pacific College, has what it takes. At 93, he is maestro extraordinaire of the Sandpipers Choir at Warm Beach Senior Community in Stanwood, Washington. Many of its members were in his choirs 50, 60 — even 65 — years ago.

A few bars into “Wonderful Jesus” at a practice in June, Schoenhals abruptly stops the singing. “What did you do wrong?” he asks.

A hand belonging to Lou Bosell ’56 shoots up. “We emphasized the ‘sus’ on ‘Jesus,’” she says.

“Yes!” says Schoenhals, pleased. “You’re saying Je-SUS. Just caress the word, but don’t emphasize the last part.”

From 1940 to 1968, Schoenhals was a driving force at Seattle Pacific. In addition to director of choral programs, his titles included music professor, director of the School of Music, registrar, dean of administration, administrative vice president, and acting president.

So it’s hard to believe he grew up expecting to spend his life working in his father’s store in Brown City, Michigan. “I had an older brother, Clifford, who worked in the store,” he says. “Everybody liked him. When I got there, everybody called me Clifford. Nobody ever called me Lawrence. My uncle told the editor of the local paper, ‘That boy will never amount to more than a row of pins.’”

Despite the unflattering prediction, Schoenhals excelled in many capacities — beyond Brown City. After leaving SPC in 1968, he became president of Roberts Wesleyan College. Later, he was appointed general secretary of higher education and the ministry for the Free Methodist denomination until his retirement at the mandatory age of 70. While at SPC, he produced the music for The Light and Life Hour, an international Christian radio broadcast.

Schoenhals edited two hymnals, wrote a book on hymns, and arranged scores of hymns. He also established several scholarships and endowments that have assisted worthy SPU music students and brought to campus such renowned musical talent as Jerome Hines, Don Lamphere, and Stephen Michael Newby.

Schoenhals leads the Sandpipers Choir with the same skill, dedication, and heart he brought to his career. Jeannie Matthews ’51 raises her hand and asks, “Can you hear the tenors?” Before Schoenhals can reply, tenor Arlo Tiede ’56 quips, “I can hear the tenors just fine,” before asking the director, with a hint of sarcasm, “Can you hear the altos?” Schoenhals smiles and launches into another song.

The celebrated nonagenarian takes no personal glory in his accomplishments. “I believe my career was beyond my intelligence or my ambition or my competence to have chosen,” he says. “I give the Lord the credit for it all.”

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