GIBSON CITY – Rehearsals for the annual "Messiah" performance are now underway at the First Presbyterian Church in Gibson City. The performance will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at the Bible Church on Gibson City’s western edge.
Four returning soloists and two newcomers will perform this year’s "Messiah" solos. As a testament to the local vocal music programs, all but one of the soloists has graduated high school from the Gibson City school system.
Stephanie Swearingen of Champaign and Andrea Dunahee of Fisher will perform the soprano solos. Amanda Broaddus of Gibson City will perform the alto solo. Male soloists will be James Judd of Chicago, tenor; Patrick Volker of Chicago, bass; and Rick Rhodes of Dewey, bass.
Professional strings, timpani and trumpet will accompany the performance. Beverly Hilmer of Fisher has provided rehearsal piano accompaniment and will also be the pianist for the performance.
Dedication to Hunt and Hager
This year’s performance will be dedicated to two individuals who have been instrumental in the success of Gibson Area Music Foundation, Val Hunt and Doug Hager. Both are founding board members, having served as secretary and treasurer, respectively, since the foundation was formed in August 2008.
The foundation’s board wishes to honor the pair for their selfless volunteer service, invaluable civic direction and dedication to the foundation’s missions.
Hunt participated as a soprano in the first area "Messiah" performance in 1944 as a junior at Drummer Township High School. She continued in the "Messiah’s" chorus for many years and was also called upon numerous times to sing solos for weddings, funerals and other occasions.
Hunt received vocal training from the high school’s choral director Lola Johnson. Johnson was so interested in having Hunt become part of a vocal ensemble that she convinced Hunt’s family to release her from some after-school duties at the family’s restaurant.
A longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church of Gibson City, Hunt sang in its choir for more than 50 years. She also directed the church’s Westminster Choir for 13 years, even getting the youth to learn to sing in traditional harmony parts.
Hunt has long served many community organizations and was recognized as Gibson City’s Citizen of the Year in 1975. Her volunteer activities now include the church, Gibson Area Hospital Auxiliary, Republican politics and “Because of Cody,” an educational organization for safe infant sleep founded by her daughter, Judy Jo Arbour of Bourbonnais, after her grandson Cody died from sudden infant death syndrome.
Hager is also a pillar of community service to the area beyond the music foundation. He was elected to the first Parkland College Board of Trustees, serving from 1966 to 1975, and served as board secretary.
He is a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church of Gibson City, serving in many leadership roles within the church, including administrative board chairman and treasurer.
Hager is a 61-year member of the Gibson City Lions Club, having joined in 1954. He admits to holding “all positions” within the organization including president.
He was also a founding board member of the Gibson Area Hospital Foundation and a past president of the Gibson City Chamber of Commerce.
His family operated Hager Lumber Company in downtown Gibson City for many years until its sale to Anderson Lumber and Hager’s retirement.
Although not a musician himself, Hager has always encouraged youth to be involved in music, including advanced piano training for his two children, Marcia and Doug, with his wife Gayle. Both children also continue to be music supporters, with his daughter serving as a board member and president of the Richmond (Va.) Symphony.
Annual expenses to produce the "Messiah" are about $4,500. Donations are encouraged, and those who contribute $10 or more are listed in the program distributed at the performance. Donations can be mailed to foundation's new treasurer, Steve Salyards, at 662 Nelson Ave., Gibson City, IL 60936.