Jeanette Oberg McGhee
1918 - 1995
Jeanette McGhee, a pianist and organist, taught music for over 45 years, in the U.S., Pakistan, India, and Lebanon. During her career she taught music at three academies and two colleges and maintained a private studio in her home.
She was born in Korea to missionary parents, Harold and Elsie Oberg. Her mother had a great love of music and from her earliest years Jeanette studied with the best possible teachers. When her parents returned to the U.S. in 1935, Jeanette's last teacher in Korea, impressed with her talent, urged her to attend a music conservatory.
Her parents, however, insisted she attend Walla Walla College, now University. For the next two years, she studied with Edna Smith Cubley and then in her third year with Stanley Walker, a newly-arrived teacher. Jeanette was clearly an outstanding soloist, a popular accompanist, and a preferred chamber music player. It was while playing in a string trio with Robert Aragon and Victor Johnson, music chairman, that she met William McGhee, a theology major and an accomplished violinist, whom she later married.
In the summer between her junior and senior years she had an invitation to teach at Laurelwood Academy, near Portland, Oregon for the 1938-1939 school year. It proved to be the adventure of a lifetime, and she enjoyed the experience immensely, giving lessons and conducting a popular pep band.
During that year, she and McGhee became engaged and they married the following summer. His first assignment was to pastor and hold evangelistic meetings in the Northwest. In the early-1940s, they accepted a position in the Michigan Conference, where they briefly worked before returning to Portland, Oregon, in 1947, because her father had developed a serious health problem. During that time she taught music at Portland Union Academy, now Portland Adventist Academy.
In December 1950, they left to serve in Pakistan. In 1961, following two five-year terms, they returned to the States. During their time there, she taught on an emergency basis at Vincent Hill School in India.
Following a year in the Middle East, where she taught at Middle East College in Beirut, Lebanon, they returned to the States so that her husband, who had become ill, could recover. During this time, Jeanette enrolled at WWC, where she studied piano with Blythe Owen, and completed a B.A. in music. She was hired to teach at WWC after graduating in 1965 and continued in that position until 1970, when her husband accepted a pastorate in Southern California.
Before his death in 1974, Jeanette completed postgraduate work at Loma Linda University. She returned to College Place in 1976 and taught a multi-grade classroom at Roger Elementary School, serving as a teaching model for elementary education majors. She resumed teaching piano at WWC in 1981 as an adjunct faculty member and continued in that position until her retirement in 1984.
McGhee stayed in College Place until 1989, when she relocated to Portland, Oregon, to be nearer her children and their families.
Sources: Information provided by Caroline McGhee Wrightman, 2007; Obituary, North Pacific Union Gleaner, 15, January 1996; Biographical Resume on file at Walla Walla University music department; Personal Knowledge.
My Mother's Life in Music
Caroline Anne McGhee Wrightman
My mother was born March 13, 1918, to Harold and Elsie Oberg, missionaries in Soonan, Korea. Her father was one of the early pioneer missionaries in Korea, leaving Walla Walla College for Korea as a single young man and later returning for his bride, Elsie Graham, a 1906 WWC graduate. Elsie was determined that Jeanette, a long awaited first born, would be musical, contributed to this goal by playing a pump organ regularly during her pregnancy.
Jeanetteís musical training included the best teachers in Korea and she became an accomplished musician. We have pictures of her as a teenager, dressed up for a recital. During these years she also became a skilled accompanist and thoroughly enjoyed accompanying one of her contemporaries, a Korean tenor. Unbeknownst to her, he fell in love with her and asked her father for permission to marry. Her father, alarmed, forbade her from continuing to accompany him. This was a painful memory, as she never got to see him after that.
When it was time for her to return to the States with her parents, at age seventeen, her music teacher encouraged her to go to a major music conservatory. Although Mother was intrigued with this idea, her parents insisted she go to Walla Walla College so that she would be in a Seventh-day Adventist environment. Although Mother had not completed her senior year at Seoul Foreign School when it was time for furlough, she learned that she could complete the requirements for American History and Government while enrolled as a freshman at the college.
During her freshman and sophomore years, 1935-37, she studied piano with Edna Smith Cubley and really enjoyed this relationship. When Smith-Cubley resigned as head of the piano department in 1936, she agreed to teach part-time in the music conservatory during the 1936-37school year.
During that year, Stanley Walker was appointed head of the piano department and at the beginning of Motherís junior year, 1937-1938, it became a requirement that music majors had to take lessons from the head of the piano department. This meant that Mother was no longer able to take lessons from Smith-Cubley, which upset my mother, and she changed her major from music to education. During this time, she received a call from Laurelwood Academy near Portland, Oregon, to teach music.
Motherís talents as a pianist were well known in college, and by the winter quarter of her sophomore year she was highly sought after accompanist. In the college paper during the 1936-37school year, there are numerous references to her playing in several programs. Additionally, in March through May 1937 she accompanied the band and orchestra in their concerts, accompanied the choir on campus and during its tour, and accompanied for two recitals. No other pianist was mentioned as many times in the school paper.
The call from Laurelwood Academy meant a lot to Mother. First, this was an encouragement to continue a career as a musician, since there were graduating music majors who were not called. She wrote her parents in Korea, asking for their advice. In those days, mail went by boat and by the time she received a return letter, advising her to stay in college, she had made the decision to go to LA.
Mother loved this year of teaching music. She roomed with Leona Running, and they became fast friends. She had a pep band at LA that became a big item. She proudly told me how she arranged God Bless America for her band, which they were asked to play for the academy board.
By now she had become engaged to my father, and they planned to marry in 1939. Even though she was very much in love, there was a sad note. Her parents would not be returning on furlough for several years and would not be able to attend her wedding. It was a close family, and this was heartrending. Her father came up with the idea of having her visit them in Korea during the summer of 1939, prior to her marriage in October. So that is what she did, traveling from Seattle to Yokohama, Japan, by ship, where her father met her and escorted her to Korea.
My father, William (Bill), a theology major, served as a pastor in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Mom, with her musical talents, was a wonderful asset to my father's ministry. When my father held evangelistic meetings, Mom was at the ready, playing piano and helping in other ways.
A sour note developed with the Upper Columbia Conference, however, when, my Mother, while pregnant with me, was told by a conference official, that the Lord was coming soon and that she had no business being pregnant. My father became very upset upon hearing about this and started making contacts with the Michigan conference. My mother always felt that the real reason for the conference officialís remark was because her pregnancy and my birth would limit her ability to play for Daddyís meetings. I was born in Portland, Oregon, on March 14, 1942.
They accepted a call to the Upper Peninsula where they stayed until returning to Portland to teach at Portland Union Academy, now Portland Adventist Academy. Mom's parents had returned from the mission field with the outbreak of World War II in 1945.
A son, William Harold McGhee, was born in Portland on February 14, 1947. This special time was followed by a sad time the next year when Momís father died. Jeanette and Bill had taken the call to PUA from Michigan because they knew that her father did not have long to live. While pastoring a district in Bend, Oregon, he had been diagnosed with cancer and was invited to serve at the Portland Sanitarium as chaplain so that he could receive the best possible treatment.
Following her father's death, Bill and Jeanette moved to Astoria, Oregon, where Bill pastored a four-church district. In 1950, he received a call to Pakistan. During this time Jeanette discovered she was pregnant with her third child. When they left by freighter from San Francisco in December, she was three months pregnant. John Kenneth McGhee was born in Karachi, Pakistan on June 18, 1951. They served in Pakistan until 1961.
When my father did not get re-assigned to Pakistan, he went to the 1962 General Conference Session in San Francisco, where he contacted the Middle East Division officials. He received an invitation to be in charge of the Middle East Press and left in 1963, preceding Mother and my two brothers. Unfortunately, he became ill with tuberculosis and required treatment in a TB sanatorium. They returned to the States in 1964.
Both he and Mother conferred about her returning to school to finish her music major. They both felt that she should take advantage of the one-year salary provided during this furlough. While he had hopes of receiving another appointment following his successful treatment in 1965, it took 5 years for him to get one.
During that time Mother taught in the music department at Walla Walla College. Melvin West, chair of the music department during those years, was a wonderful, supportive influence. He had encouraged her during her senior year and then hired her following her graduation in the summer of 1965.
Mother hated to leave WWC in 1970, but when her husband was invited to pastor the Joshua Tree/Yucca Valley district in Southern California, there was no hesitation. In addition to her musical contributions at church, Mother also taught in the local church school, going to La Sierra University during the summer months to obtain an advanced education certificate. Two years after her husbandís death in 1974, she returned to College Place, Washington, and lived in the same house her mother had lived in.
Through all the years she was with her husband in Pakistan, Lebanon, and various locations in the States, she continued to give lessons and present her students in numerous recitals. While in India, she also assisted in music at Vincent Hill School when they had an unexpected need. When my parents were scheduled to go to the Middle East and she learned that Middle East College needed an organ teacher, she took organ lessons at Andrews University, while my father took classes to complete his B.D. in theology.
When she moved to Portland, Oregon, in the 1989 and was living at an assisted living facility, she continued her music. One of her prized possessions was the baby grand piano she had in her studio apartment. At times she played the piano during meals for the residents. Upon her "graduation" from the skilled nursing facility (after breaking her hip), she played "La Madonna" as a special musical feature. Every Sunday she played the little organ in the chapel for services.
I was indoctrinated with music from both parents. I started taking piano lessons at age five and violin at age eleven. During the furlough year of 1955-56, I attended Rogers School and played violin in the junior orchestra and studied violin with college professor John J. Hafner. When I returned to college in 1960, I resumed studying violin with Hafner and joined the college orchestra. Later, Hafner convinced me to take up the viola and play in a special chamber music ensemble group
Even though I had decided to become a nursing major, I spent two years, 1960 to 1962, in pre-nursing to have time for music electives. During that time I also studied with Blythe Owen, who tried to convince me to change to a piano major with the statement "You donít want to carry bedpans do you?"
Undeterred, I went on to become a psychiatric nurse. Through the years I played violin in the San Bernardino Symphony and the Carson Symphony, and now play in the Sunnyside Symphony Orchestra in Portland, Oregon.
I have very fond memories of Walla Walla College, including accompanying the voice teacher, Rae Constantine, at lessons in the music conservatory as well as practicing with voice students. My mother, a good sight reader herself, always made sure that I practiced sight reading so that I would be prepared as an accompanist.
My mother provided a great foundation in piano for all her children, often practicing the classics after their bedtime. Given her Norwegian heritage (her dad was full-blooded Norwegian) it is no surprise that she promoted Grieg, asking my music teacher at Vincent Hill School to feature me in a recital playing Griegís Piano Concerto in A Minor. The teacher dutifully complied, since Mother provided the music! I still remember thinking about the majesty of the fjords in Norway and attempting to convey that in the concerto.