Stanley E. Schleenbaker
Stan Schleenbaker, singer, pastor, pilot, and businessman, is best known in music for his extensive involvement with male quartet singing for over 25 years, particularly for his seven years as first tenor in the Faith for Today male quartet.
Stan was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of four sons of Walter Franklin and Florence Elizabeth Bowman Schleenbaker. Music was an important part of life in their home. Stan recently wrote about his childhood and how he became a singer:
I can't remember any time there was not a grand piano in our home. Mother played but not seriously. My brother Bob studied piano for 8 years and had a light delicate touch. When Mother offered to give me some kind of music lessons, I chose guitar because I had heard enough of Bob's practicing. The studies didn't last long.
I trace my start as a singer to an incident that happened at a Friday evening vesper program during my sophomore year at Shenandoah Valley Academy. I and two of my friends had arrived early for the meeting so we could sit in the back row, a preferred place for the boys.
Some faculty members came and sat right in front of us, a stressful situation. One of these was the English teacher, who also happened to be the daughter of the principal. During the singing of one of the hymns, she suddenly turned around and asked, "Who has that beautiful tenor voice?" After I sheepishly confessed, she observed, "You're going to go someplace with a voice like that."
I teamed up with three other classmates and formed the Sophomore Quartet, one that stayed together through the next three years, renaming ourselves each year until we graduated as the venerable Senior Quartet. I also sang in the choir.
When he graduated in 1948, Stan attended Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University for a year and then dropped out for a year before going to Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, where he graduated in 1954 with a major in theology and a minor in history and music. He was the only one in his family to go to college and do something with music, although two of his brothers also had music training. While at EMC he continued to sing in quartets.
Following graduation, he served in the Michigan Conference as a pastor and was a member of the conference's quartet for two years. At the end of that time, he returned to Pennsylvania to be with his father, who died three years later.
The day after his father's funeral service, Faith for Today contacted him about coming to sing in the quartet. This was actually the third time they had approached him, the previous two having been while he was a student at AU at the time Harold Lickey wanted to leave the quartet, and when he was beginning his work as a pastor.
With his father's death, Schleenbaker had to choose between working with his three brothers in running the family business, the largest manufacturer of brushes in the world (the production at that time was over 20 million units annually), or resuming work as a minister. He decided to reenter the ministry by singing in the FFT quartet.
He sang with the quartet from 1959 to 1966. In addition to singing, he edited the audio recordings made by the quartet and answered letters from those who had questions about the group or its music, as well as questions posed by young people taking the Junior Bible Course. In his editing, he pioneered the idea of editing tapes from the back or the last taping rather than searching from the beginning for acceptable segments.
Also, being the oldest member of the quartet, he served as spokesman for the group after Herbert Hohensee left the group in 1963. While the quartet had traditionally limited its repertoire to sacred music, they developed a secular program in 1965. Schleenbaker later talked about this change and the good humor that was part of working at FFT:
We developed a lighthearted secular program where we sang and played instruments as well. We introduced it at the 1965 Youth Congress in Atlantic City and because our schools were represented there, we started getting invitations to give this program at academies and colleges. The concert enabled the students to see us as down to earth people, not stuffed shirts. Sometimes when we were invited, they wanted us to do the whole weekend, to do the preaching as well as singing both sacred and secular music.
We had moments of good humor in the office. One time, Mrs. Fagal gave us a copy of some music someone had sent in, hoping we would perform it, and said, "Would you run over this and let me know what you think?" It really wasn't that good, so we took it out in the parking lot, ran over it with a car, and gave it back to her with the tire tread on it and the comment that we had "run over it."
Schleenbaker had been ordained in 1963, based on his several years of pastoral work, devotion to the ministry of music, and work at the FFT Bible School. Elmer Walde, then Radio and TV Secretary of the General Conference, and Don Roth, along with Elder Fagal, officiated in his ordination service at the New York Center in Times Square, New York.
When the Faith for Today quartet was dismantled in September of 1966, Schleenbaker was hired by the Greater New York Conference as Director of the New York Center. He was responsible for caring for the physical plant, making arrangements for programs in the auditorium, and overseeing finances. After a year in that position he became Director of Trust Services for the conference, a position he held until 1974. During that time he worked with the Metropolitan Evangelistic Team, appearing at least once during each of their crusades to sing solos and join in singing with the Crusade Trio.
Having been involved with his family in business for much of his life, he always had an interest in having his own business. In 1974, after resigning from the conference office, he purchased a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Franchise in The Bronx. In 1977, tiring of the stress of working in New York (his store was robbed at gunpoint three times), he sold the business and moved to the Collegedale, Tennessee, area.
Schleenbaker had always had an interest in flying, taking his first flying lesson when he was fifteen years old. Over the years he had flown as a private aviator. Wanting desperately to fly as a vocation he first hired on with Little Debbie Snack Cakes as a long-haul truck driver, driving eighteen-wheelers throughout the Southeast. The president recommended this as a step to getting into the flight department.
One year later, he transferred to the flight department, where he earned his final rating as Airline Transport Pilot, became lead captain on the King Air 200 turboprop, and a captain on the Citation III jet, fulfilling a lifetime dream of getting to the top in aviation. He remained at this job until he retired twelve years later, in 1992.
He also continued to sing. In 1985 he developed an ulcer on his vocal chords, and had surgery that affected and weakened his voice. Even so, he continues to sing in choral groups in Collegedale and is occasionally featured as a soloist in their concerts. Quartet singing, however, has been his lifetime focus in music, having sung in quartets for 26 years.
He recently related how a gift given by his mother to Faith for Today in 1964 became nearly fifty years later a heartwarming memory of her and his time at FFT:
In 1964 my mother bought a new 6'3" Baldwin grand piano for the FFT Quartet. In 1966 when the quartet was disbanded, the piano remained with FFT and was moved to California when they moved the entire ministry there. It was set up at the Media Center, where it was used in numerous televised shows. Through the years I had forgotten about it.
When I was at the Media Center a few years ago to tape the 60th anniversary of FFT, Jerry Reed, one of the cameramen who moved with them from New York, pointed and said, "There's your mother's piano." Wow! I hadn't even noticed the piano until Jerry pointed it out. I stroked it lovingly and had Kathy [Fagal] Prall play it while I sang a few songs for old time's sake.
Recently I got word from Jim Gilley that he heard the Center might be sold. So I wrote a letter to Dan Jackson, Mike Tucker, and Warren Judd, telling them that if the Center was sold, I hoped I could get my hands on my mother's piano and have it in my home. Imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail from Mike telling me the board had met and that they would GIVE me the piano, even though the decision had not been made to sell the Center. Not only that, they would pay the shipping, split between FFT and the Center. I was dumbfounded.
It took several months and then I got a call from Warren saying it was on the way. It now stands proudly in my living room - the piano with its memories of my mother and the FFT Quartet. I sent an e-mail to several of my musical friends that I now had it and that unbelievably it was in tune after that long journey.
One of the e-mails went to my cousin, Kelly Mowrer, and she fired back a reply that she would love to come over to play it. Since Kelly lives only a few miles from me, we arranged a time and she came the next day. She played it for 1½ hours as I sat back and just enjoyed listening to "my mother's piano." Her comment was that it was a magnificent instrument and she just couldn't stop playing it.
Sources: Three interviews, March 2007; Subsequent emails, the latest being two received in March 2013.