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Former Students Help Make 94th Birthday Special for Retired Clawson Music Teacher

Former Students Help Make 94th Birthday Special for Retired Clawson Music Teacher

(Lara Mossa, March 8,  2019)

BERKLEY – She said the secret to longevity is taking a nap every day and eating good food.

“And my kids take good care of me,” said Zenovia Courtney, 93, of Berkley.

A former music teacher, Courtney turns 94 on March 13. To commemorate the occasion, her children have asked former students to share memories of the woman who taught music for more than 30 years.

“There was nothing better than to teach music,” said Courtney, who now lives with her son Bob Courtney and his wife, Sophie.

A lifelong lover of music, Courtney is of Ukranian heritage and learned to play the piano at a young age. Born in Jeanette, Penn., she grew up in Yorkville, Ohio. She played in her high school marching band and orchestra and earned a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in music – in a time when it was rare for a woman to finish college and have a career.

The Peabody Conservatory offered Courtney a scholarship, but she chose to become a teacher instead and settled into family life with her husband, Charles Harvey Courtney. They married in 1948, moved to Michigan in 1955 and had eight children. Her husband, who was a science teacher at Royal Oak Schools, died in 2009 at the age of 83.

Zenovia Courtney always taught at Clawson Schools and worked in at least six elementary buildings – several of which are closed now – along with the middle school.

“I always made sure they knew how to sing God Bless America,” said Courtney, reminiscing about her teaching days. Besides instruments such as the xylophone and recorder, Courtney taught her students how to do the polka, waltz and square dancing. She held music programs every year and took her choirs to sing at nursing homes. She also gave private piano lessons.

So far, the family has heard from about a dozen of her students. Her daughter, Anna Courtney, put a post on the Facebook page Clawson Community News & Discussion, to collect memories and plans to put them in a book for her mother.

“Happiest of Birthday wishes to you!” wrote Sandi Ozias. “I was a music student of yours from 1962-1968, along with my 5 siblings, Gary, Cheryl, Greg, Reggie and Judy. You chose me for two different solo singing parts. One was singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song with another boy, and the other was singing a song, in German, about a hat. Thank you for so many wonderful memories.”

Courtney passed her love of music down to her children, 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Her daughter, Zenovia Courtney Kidd is an elementary music teacher.

Music still fills her life today and she listens to all kinds of genres including classical music, hymns, folk music, children’s songs and popular music by singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet. Her favorite TV shows revolve around music such as “America’s Got Talent,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Voice.” Her children remember growing up with the love of music and singing at family gatherings and during long car trips.

“I think she gave all of her kids the move of music,” John Courtney said.  “She had a positive impact on her students’ lives. A lot of her students remember her giving them the love of music.”

As they talked, Zenovia Courtney sang along to one of their favorite childhood tunes – “Little Red Caboose.”

Anna Courtney described her as a dedicated music teacher with a good sense of humor.

“She genuinely cared about those kids in her classroom” Courtney said. “She had a passion.”

Through the years, Zenovia Courtney participated in many organizations including folk dancing groups and the Royal Oak Musicale. She won accolades such as “Teacher of the Year” and took graduate classes in music education. She traveled the world for conferences through the International Society of Music Educators.

“I have had a pretty good life,” Zenovia said. “I traveled to many countries.  I loved teaching music, and I had my own kids.”  Each birthday is a milestone in a life full of love and learning.  She plans on starting her next year in the company of the family she loves so much.

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