Jean Szabo

Jean Szabo  

Faculty/Staff Service Award

Professor emeritus of music

Sharing talents and gifts

For 27 years, Jean Szabo was committed to developing the musical talents of Bluffton’s students. A member of the music faculty from 1965-92, Szabo enjoyed helping students accomplish and exceed their goals.

“It was wonderful getting to meet new students each year and sharing in their gifts,” said Szabo. “For many, piano was a challenge, but I tried to make each lesson a good experience, and it was wonderful watching their accomplishments.”

Szabo is the recipient of the 2019 Faculty/Staff Service Award. The award recognizes a former faculty or staff member who fostered a spirit of community on campus through relationships with others, including students whom the recipient mentored and inspired.

Szabo’s passion for music began at an early age with piano lessons starting when she was just five years old. Originally taught by her aunt, an accomplished pianist who died in an automobile accident, Szabo spent many years under the guidance of Pearl Bogart Mann, who taught applied piano at Bluffton as well as private lessons.

“Mrs. Mann was my teacher from first grade through my first year of college,” said Szabo. “That was a wonderful experience. I loved playing right away, to be able to create that beautiful sound. She pushed and challenged me.”

A true calling
Mann also encouraged Szabo to pursue music as a career. Szabo graduated from Baldwin Wallace University in 1949 with a Bachelor of Music and returned to her hometown with her husband Jim. She taught private lessons at home for several years until she got a call from former Bluffton President Robert Kreider.

“He asked if I would be interested in teaching here, and I sure was!” said Szabo. Szabo taught music majors and non-majors alike, from functional piano to music theory to a music appreciation class called What to Listen for in Music.

“Those were mainly non-music majors. A lot of them hadn’t had much background in music,” explained Szabo.

“In that class, they learned to hear something new in music that they hadn’t experienced before.”

While she enjoyed teaching private lessons, Szabo explained college students “felt more challenged. They felt more of a responsibility for what they were doing with their time.”

In 1970, she earned a Master of Music from Bowling Green State University. Szabo received tenure in 1974 and completed her first sabbatical in Vienna, Austria, the same year. Sabbaticals followed at Kingston Polytechnic in London, England, and selected universities in Canada and the United States.

Commitment in-and-out of the classroom
During her employment, Szabo was also a member of several professional organizations, accompanied countless recitals and served as the chair of the Artist Series Committee for 10 years.

“It’s great to hear performances on campus,” said Szabo. “Students are encouraged and challenged by listening to professionals.”

For many years, Szabo also accompanied, on harpsichord, the annual performance of “Messiah” on campus.

“That was new for me. Pianos have keys that are connected to hammers that hit the strings, whereas the harpsichord has quills that pluck the strings,” explained Szabo. “It gave a completely different sound.”

Off campus, the Szabo family, which included her husband Jim and sons Jeff, Jerry and Jon, were known for performing around the community as an ensemble. And, as a member of First Methodist Church in Bluffton, Szabo played at services for 60 years.

Szabo joked that she once asked her son when a person should retire. “He said ‘while you’re still good at it.’”

But when you’re passionate about something, it’s hard to give up. Now living at Maple Crest Senior Living Village, Szabo is retired but continues to serve as the accompanist for a group of fellow residents who rehearse every week.