Grace Estella Burke Cafferky (Will)

1921 - 2018

Grace E. Cafferky, a versatile musician, was an accomplished violinist, pianist, marimba player, and organist. A life-long performer, she was a frequent soloist on violin, piano, and marimba and a member of numerous ensembles. During her career, she taught at four Seventh-day Adventist academies, giving lessons and conducting choirs, bands, and orchestras, and at two Adventist colleges, where she taught piano.

Grace was born in Timberlake, South Dakota, on December 4, 1921, one of three children born to William and Bonnie Burke. Prior to the family's conversion to the Adventist church, popular music was an important activity in their home. She started violin study in the third grade and piano in the sixth grade, in each instance taking lessons for only a year. While attending Plainview Academy in South Dakota from 1936 to 1939, she studied piano for a year with Helene Morris. She later recalled:

In the middle of my senior year, they changed music teachers. The new teacher, Mrs. Watts, said, "We are not going to have any more violin trio music. I want you to come to my studio and I will teach you to play a marimba."

Living in a small town of about 3500, I had no idea what a marimba was. I walked into her studio and there it was. I said, "Oh," and looked at it. She said, "You and I are going to play a duet Friday night for vespers." She then gave me a book with the music and six mallets, two hard ones and four soft ones for hymns. I took the book and read it, worked on the instrument, and that Friday night we played a duet!

Gracie attended Union College, where she played in the string quartet and studied piano with Perry Beach. At the end of the year, she had to leave for financial reasons.

In that first year I was taking both piano lessons and secretarial science classes. At the end of the year I worked for a year and then was asked to go to North Dakota to be secretary to the president of the conference for one year. They then asked me to go to Sheyenne River Academy, where I taught music for another year.

Adrian Lauritzen, who was head of the Union College music department, invited me to come and give piano lessons and assist in leading the choirs while I did more study in music. I still enjoyed playing marimba, but still did not have my own instrument.

Adrian was determined that we have a marimba ensemble. He had me teach the instrument and form a marimba group. We had three large instruments, and I placed two players on each one. We played a lot of music, everything from Malaguena to Bach Suites, and performed on campus, in churches, and even at the University of Nebraska.

In 1945 she was invited by Stanley Walker, head of the music department at Walla Walla College, to teach piano and continue her music study and take piano lessons from Sterling K. Gernet. In her three years at WWC, Gracie formed another marimba group as she had done at UC. She later talked about that group and its activities and her continued playing on the instrument:

We had fifteen players on eleven instruments. Every once in a while, Walker would say, get the marimba group together and we will ask you to play for church. The old gym [Columbia Auditorium] where we worshipped, roller-skated, and had programs was about the only place that had enough space for us to play in. It was a nice place in which to play because of its live acoustics.

Harold Mitzelfelt, who had come to the college the same year I did, was conducting the band and orchestra. He invited me to audition with the band, along with two other players. When I got up to play with the band, he gave me a flute part. I asked, "Please, don't you have a conductor's score so I can pick and choose what part I want to play?" I was invited to join the group.

During her time at WWC she married Edwin A. Cafferky, a pre-medical student who four months before they married bought a marimba for her. In the year after she graduated from WWC in 1947 with a music degree, she continued to teach piano half time at the college while teaching music half time at the nearby academy, now Walla Walla Valley Academy, for a year. Following that year, Cafferky taught music at Loma Linda Academy for two years and then part-time at Glendale Academy while her husband attended medical school in Loma Linda, California.

Attending church and being a mother were always priorities with Cafferky. Only after her family was raised did she study nursing at the Loma Linda School of Nursing, graduating from there in 1978 with an A.A. degree. Throughout her life, whether as a mother and teacher of music to her children, a member of the church, or a nurse, she was musically active, playing in ensembles and as a marimba soloist, accompanying, giving lessons in her home, and serving as an organist in Adventist churches.

In her college years, Cafferky played in orchestras, bands, and chamber groups, and sang with and accompanied choirs. She also played in string quartets for four years in college and later in other chamber ensembles, including a family string quartet from 1957 to 2005, formed with her two sons, Ronald and Robert, violinists, and daughter, Carmen, a cellist.

I remember the first time we did a complete church service as a quartet. Bobbie was eight years old and had just gotten a violin, so the kids were eight, nine, and ten and all had their vibrato. Wayne Hooper, who was a friend of our family, had asked us to play at the Vallejo Church and provide all of the service music, including the prelude, offertory, special music, and postlude.

When we were getting ready to play that morning, the kids asked, "Momma, do we have to sit up front of everybody?" Wayne said, "Now wait a minute, everybody wants to hear a choir for church, but that's not quite fair. We have instrumental people sitting down there, so I think it's time that we do something like this. The choir's not going to sing today; you will be the choir and play the special music and also be the "organist" for the congregational hymns.

Cafferky was a member of the Glendale Symphony, the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony, and, after retiring in 1984, the Walla Walla Symphony. Additionally, in her retirement years she gave annual instrumental recitals and continued to accompany and serve as an organist.

After the death of Ed Cafferky in 2006, She married Al Will. They were married for over seven years. They were living in College Place, Washington, when she died on January 16, 2018, at age 96. She was survived by her husband Al, her three children, eight grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren.


Sources: Information provided by Grace E. Burke Cafferky in an interview in 2008; Obituary at the Bateman Carroll Funeral Home, Gresham, Oregon; personal knowledge.