Bessie Ruth Wheeler Shepherd

1910 -1998 

Bessie Shepherd, a pianist, was born in Roseberg, Oregon, the oldest of four daughters of Joseph Prescott and Gertrude Emmerson Wheeler. Her father, who was secretary/treasurer of the Southern Oregon Conference, became ill in 1917 and in an attempt to regain his health moved to California, where he died two years later in the St. Helena Sanitarium.

Gertrude, and her four daughters returned to Oregon, where Bessie began her piano study in the 1920's with Margaret Rippey, a well-known keyboard performer and teacher in the Portland area. While studying with Rippey, she attended and taught piano at nearby Columbia Academy in Battleground, Washington.

She entered Walla Walla College, now University, in 1929 and completed a two-year diploma in piano performance in 1931, the only music degree the college offered at that time. She also studied violin under John Hickman and voice with Ruth Havstad and Lon C. Metcalfe.

Following graduation and her marriage to Reginald Lawrence Shepherd, she taught piano, violin and voice in a career that included appointments at Laurelwood and Auburn academies in the Northwest and a number of schools in California, including three years at Glendale Academy, where she taught classroom music.

In 1977 she moved to Pasco, Washington, where she taught piano for 21 years, until she fully retired in 1998, after seventy years of teaching. During those years she attended workshops and continued to study piano privately, taking lessons from Leonard Richter at Walla Walla College as late as the 1980's.

She was living in Pasco when she died at age 87.


Sources/Endnote: letter from Bessie Wheeler Shepherd, 8 January 1990; Cathy Nisson Richter Family Tree,; Obituary for her father, North Pacific Union Gleaner, 30 January 1919, 6; personal knowledge. Gertrude, Bessie’s mother, was musically talented and while working as a superintendent of a service department at Walla Walla College in the 1930s would conduct a choir in the community.  She married Edward Carpenter in 1937 and would reside in the Walla Walla area until her death in December 1969 at age 83 (Obituaries, Pacific Union Recorder, 15 June 1970, 7 and North Pacific Union Gleaner, 23 February 1970, 14).