WESTFIELDâ Evelyn M. Comey Bleeke, 93, a resident of Westfield, NJ and of Kennebunk, Maine passed away in her sleep on Friday, February 24, 2017 in Edison, NJ.
She was born in Reading, Mass on Sept. 9, 1923. As a young girl, Evelyn displayed immense natural musical talent and enthusiasm. By age ten, she was playing piano and pump organ for church services and developing as a singer. After she graduated from high school, she worked at a restaurant and continued her playing and began singing in a close harmony gal group, The Melody Gems, with whom she sang weekly live radio broadcasts from The Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. She attended Boston University, graduating with honors including The Scarlet Key. Boston University's Scarlet Key Honor Society was founded in 1938 as an activities honor society, in which new members were voted inâor tappedâannually by existing members.
Evelyn spent an extra year at BU in a special conducting program under the tutelage of Sam Peck. To help in the war effort Evelyn offered her conducting abilities at USO dances where she met her future husband Donald E. Bleeke to whom she would be married for nearly sixty years.
The couple moved to Arlington, Mass where she worked at The Congregational Church and her husband received his Master's Degree from Boston University. From there, they moved their family to Dover, DE where she directed the Playtex Manufacturing Plant Community Chorus and accepted the position of choral director and organist at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Dover.
In 1956 she moved with her family to Westfield, NJ. After studying organ with Wilma Jensen at Westfield's Methodist Church, she began working at the Congregational Church in Westfield as the Choral Director and the organist. She was helpful in the purchase of their new pipe organ. During those early years in Westfield her musical life blossomed, where in addition to her church duties and family obligations, she sang recitals and concerts, and took on Operatic roles such as the Mother, in Amahl and the Night Visitors, under the direction of Alfredo Silipini. Maestro Silipini later hired her as Chorus Master of The New Jersey State Opera.
She was also selected for the position of Conductor of the Suburban Symphony Chorus of NJ in 1963. This group was originally founded by Peter Scozio in 1962. The name was changed when Evelyn became director, to The Choral Art Society of NJ. Evelyn became the heart and soul of this organization and due to her high standards of excellence and her choices for a variety of great choral masterpieces, she lead the group in the great choral works of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Puccini, Verdi, Vaughan Williams and more to include over 109 master works.
Evelyn also became the conductor of the Westfield Glee Club and was very active in the Music Club of Westfield.
Mrs. Bleeke accepted her next calling as organist and director of music at The First Baptist Church in Westfield. This church choir performed amazing works inside the confines of a worship service. As Evelyn, would say "Gods words through music"! Evelyn assisted in the transformation of the sanctuary, the addition to the building, and the rebuilding of the organ.
Her pioneering spirit compelled her pursuit of growth and self-improvement as she attended choral and vocal workshops around the country, studied voice privately, took on the post of National Treasurer of The American Baptist Convention, attended The American Guild of Organist's concerts, workshops and meetings, played organ at Temple Emanuel in Elizabeth, and earned her Master's in conducting and the equivalent of her Doctorate at Trenton State College.
When her youngest children were developing, she took on yet another role as a devoted teacher of music in the public-school system, teaching full time for many years at Deerfield School in Mountainside, David Brearley High School in Kenilworth, NJ where she directed, planned and produced 14 musicals and then on to Arthur L Johnson High School in Clark, NJ where she was again the choral and voice teacher. Evelyn received many awards, including the Governor's Award and the Master Teacher of the Year from the New Jersey Music Educators Association. When asked how she had gotten the students to sing such difficult music, she answered, "I just never knew students weren't supposed to be able to do this"
Evelyn retired from public school teaching in 1983 and took an assignment teaching voice and conducting at Kean University's Music Conservatory.
Wherever she went, Evelyn brought excellence and seemed to always create magic with the musicians she led.
She accepted an invitation to be music director at First Presbyterian Church of Cranford and served for many years in what would be her final calling as a full-time church musician.
When she retired, she continued to teach voice privately and was active in the musical life in and around Westfield and Kennebunk, Maine.
Evelyn was like a Pied Piper, collecting musically accomplished students who would follow her and become participants in her future musical works. She had a special way with people, and could generate love, passion and excitement for the music with her leadership and conducting. Evelyn Bleeke touched the lives of thousands of people through the years, and is loved by many. Her excitement, passion and love of music will live on in the hearts and voices of family and countless friends.
She was a member of several Musical Groups and publicly funded organizations including the Musical Club of Westfield and the Historical Society.
Evelyn was preceded by the death of her husband, Donald E Bleeke in 2005. She is survived by her four children Jeffrey, Steven, Linda and Mark, nine grandchildren and 5 great-grand children.
A memorial service is planned for March 18, 2017 at 11:00am at the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford 11 Springfield Ave. Cranford, NJ 07016. There will be a repast following the service at the Church. Afterwards she will be inurned at Fairview Cemetery on Broad Street in Westfield, NJ
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to Musical Club of Westfield/Scholarship Fund 806 Marks Ave. Westfield, NJ 07090 c/o Drude Crane. Or you can go to their webpage and make your donation online: http://westfieldnj.com/mcw/index.htm . The Musical Club makes available scholarships to gifted high school students wishing to pursue their music studies at the college level.
Arrangements by Gray Funeral Home. In Cranford. Go to Grayfuneralhomes.com for on line condolences.