Virginia Mae Rittenhouse Fagal

1917 - 2010

Virginia Fagal, best known in the Seventh-day Adventist church as the cofounder and co-host of Faith for Today, is also an accomplished violinist. Even while a student at Atlantic Union College, from 1936 to 1940, she assisted in teaching violin.

Virginia was born in Seattle, Washington, one of five children of Sidney Noble and Lillian M. Nelson Rittenhouse. She grew up in a home where music was an integral part of life. Her mother was a highly trained musician who was determined that her children would have a musical education. Her father was a Seventh-day Adventist minister whose success as a pastor and an administrator led to the family living in Lansing and Flint, Michigan; Springfield, Illinois, where he served as president of the Illinois Conference for five years; Upstate New York in the Rochester and Syracuse area, where he pastored; and, finally in New England.

She started violin lessons at age seven while living in Flint, Michigan. Her primary violin teacher in those early years was Wallace Grieves, director of the Springfield College of Music and Allied Arts in Illinois. Following a break in lessons of three years, she resumed violin study while attending Union Springs Academy in New York state, taking lessons on a bi-weekly basis at the Syracuse University College of Fine Arts with Andre Polah. Since there wasn't a music program at USA, she also taught violin to her fellow students. After graduating from the academy in 1935, she waited a year before going to Atlantic Union College. During that time she studied intensively with Polah.

In February of her first year at AUC, the college hired Bela Urbanowsky, a virtuoso violinist of Hungarian parentage who had studied in Europe with Eugene Ysaye, a leading violinist of the time, and Ysaye's son. Rittenhouse immediately began study with Urbanowsky, an experience she recalled enthusiastically in later years, and continued with him until she graduated with a diploma in violin in 1940.

Within a short time of his arrival, Urbanowsky, who enjoyed playing string quartet music, organized a string quartet that included Rittenhouse as second violinist and her brother, Harvey, as cellist. Additionally, she was appointed his assistant and also taught violin.

Rittenhouse and William Fagal, a theology major and tenor singer in a college vocal quartet, married when she finished college. In time their successful work in radio evangelism led them to start the church's first effort in television evangelism in May 1950, Faith for Today. This program, fully sponsored by the church, was successful and by December 1950 became the first national religious telecast in America, appearing on an eleven-station transcontinental hookup. Eventually, they were being presented on 350 stations nationwide. 

In 2000 the National Religious Broadcaster awarded Faith for Today its Milestone Award in recognition of its pioneering work in the middle of the 20th century and its ability to adapt to changes in the media. In 2004 Virginia Fagal was given the SONscreen Innovation Award at their annual festival in Dallas, Texas, where she was cited for her “dedicated service in pioneering media ministries.”

Fagal was living in Thousand Oaks, California, when she died at age 92.

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Sources: Interviews with Virginia Fagal, 7 September and 27 and 28 October 2007; William and Virginia Fagal, This is Our Story, 1980, Pacific Press, 1980, Obituary for Sidney Rittenhouse, Review and Herald, 10 October 1974; Social Security Death Index.