Elmer Uan Testerman

1918 - 1997

Elmer Testerman, singer and choir director, was known for his musicianship, buoyant enthusiasm, thoughtful Christian views, and love of the great choral masterpieces. He inspired the students who knew and sang under him.  A convert to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in his mid-thirties, he taught music for sixteen years and served as a pastor for nine years.

Elmer was born in Kentucky, the son of John M. and Cora Lee Johnson Testerman. His father was a coal miner and he lost his mother when he was thirteen. He spent his teenage years living with relatives in Tennessee.

He loved music and enjoyed singing in the choir at the Methodist Church and playing his saxophone in the high school band and a local dance band. After a clinician from the Westminster Choir College did a summer choral clinic at his church, he was inspired to try choral conducting and started his own youth choir. The organist for the group recognized his musical talent and encouraged him to pursue music.

Testerman married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ruth Umberger, known as Polly to her friends, when they graduated. They traveled to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend WCC, one of the first married couples to do so. Although he was inducted into the U.S. Army after one year at WCC, when he returned following World War II, he returned to the school and finished an undergraduate degree. He then completed a master's degree in conducting at WCC. During the years that he was in the Westminster Choir, they performed in New York City's Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall, singing under world famous conductors Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Leopold Stowkowski.

He began his career as Minister of Music at a Methodist Church in Brownwood, Texas. While serving later as the Minister of Music and Christian education at a Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, Testerman started studying with the Seventh-day Adventists and was baptized at age 36. Beginning in 1955, he taught music in several Adventist schools, including Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University; Shenandoah Valley Academy; Mount Pisgah Academy; and Union College.

While at Union College, Testerman directed the Golden Chords Chorale, the Unionaires, and the College View Church Deacons' Chorus. He was at his place in the choir loft almost every Sabbath morning. He loved to direct congregational singing, treating the audience as a big choir. In those years at UC it was the tradition of the students to sing hymns and gospel songs at the Friday evening vespers. They sang so well that a record of the students' vesper singing was made, with him conducting.

After leaving Union College in 1971, Testerman pastored churches in Kearney and Hemingford, Nebraska, and in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, before retiring and moving to California in 1980. One of the last concerts he attended was a performance by a La Sierra University choir directed by William Chunestudy, one of his former UC students. The concert, dedicated by Chunestudy to his teacher and friend, was an honor that was deeply appreciated both Elmer and Polly Testerman.

They were living in Loma Linda, California, when he died at age 79. 

Carol Testerman Leonhardt/ds 2004/2013

Sources: Carol Testerman Leonhardt, biographical Sketch, 1997; Social Security Death Index and Armed Services Enlistment Records, 3 August 1943, Ancestory.com; personal knowledge.