Alice Strawbridge was a music teacher at Peterson-Warren Academy, near Detroit, for almost three decades.
She was known for her knack in developing her students’ musical skills and instrumental in providing opportunities for the band and choir members to minister on tour in several U.S. cities.
Tributes began pouring in as soon as her family announced she had passed peacefully in her sleep on Nov. 6 at age 92. Cause of death was kidney failure.
Former principal Juanita Martin, Ph.D., remembers Strawbridge as someone who arrived early and stayed late to give students music lessons. “There isn’t a child born that Mrs. Strawbridge didn’t see musical potential in. Whatever talent a child showed, whether it was singing or playing an instrument, she did everything in her power to help it evolve.”
Jonathan Cantrell, PWA class of 2000, says his teacher’s legacy continues to this day. “Because of Mrs. Strawbridge believing in my gift to play the saxophone, I played in the PWA band throughout high school. Now, at 39, I still play the saxophone, and I’m teaching my children what she taught me and my brother. For this, I am forever grateful!”
Ruth Horton, associate director of the Lake Union Education Department recalls Mrs. Strawbridge as, “a gentle giant of a seasoned educator, who cultivated goodwill, understanding and love. She was respected by her colleagues, her students, educational supervisors, and those who knew her. . . We will miss her spirit, her resolve and her example. Rest in peace, my friend. We will embrace again, very soon.”
Alice Olivia Jones was born on April 26, 1929 to the late Gilbert Emmanuel and Lou-Alma (Clarke) Jones in Detroit, Michigan. Alice was the seventh of ten children; Gilbert II, Lester, Anne, Barbara, William (Buddy), Rosa Lee (Rose), Robert (Chubb), Leondo (Sonny), and Sylvester (died at birth).
The Jones family was Alice’s pride and joy. She had a close bond with all her siblings, but especially her brother Buddy. Alice and Buddy were known as partners in crime and shared many experiences together. She was the highlight of her family with her exaggerated stories and unmatched sense of humor, especially at family gatherings.
In early years, Alice and her siblings were taught piano lessons by their mother who inspired them to play. However, Alice was the only one with an interest in learning music seriously, with a natural affinity for the piano. She continued to enhance her piano skills, and by age fourteen, she had mastered Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. I, op. 23.
Alice received her formal education in the Detroit Public school system where she attended Pershing High school and later attended Oakwood Academy in Huntsville, Al.
She earned an Associates’ Degree in Liberal Arts from Wayne County Community College (WC3) and continued her studies at Wayne State University majoring in History.
In December of 1952, Alice met and fell in love with Arthur Virgil Strawbridge Il, a construction worker from Alabama, and were soon married. Alice always wanted a large family, but God blessed her and Arthur to raise two children together; a daughter, Sherry Deloris, and a son, Arthur Virgil Strawbridge Ill. Like her mother, Alice loved music and endeavored to teach her children to play the piano and other wind and stringed instruments as well. Both Alice and Arthur, fully supported Christian education for their children, making financial sacrifices as they attended several Adventists academies and universities.
Alice looked forward to their annual Jones family reunions, where her brothers and sisters (known as “big heads” in the family) would gather together for family picnics. The Jones Family reunion would consume the entire weekend with fun activities, especially singing with the Jones Family Choir during Sabbath worship services at the local Adventist church.
Alice was a very classy lady who loved to wear fancy hats and clothes to church every Sabbath. She was friendly to everyone she met in places like; grocery stores, public parks, and community events. She would talk to strangers as though she had known them for years.
In her younger years, Alice enjoyed roller skating at the Belleville rink on Saturday nights with other young people, and like Fred Talbert and William Harris. Her favorite pastimes were playing table games (like Dominos, Sorry, and Trouble) with her family, going for long rides out in the country on hot summer days, and eating vanilla & chocolate swirl ice cream cones from Dairy Queen.
In the early 1950s, Alice sang in the renowned Burns Avenue Youth for Christ Choir and radio broadcast ministry under the direction of Sam Dent. Later, in 1962, Alice became director of the Youth for Christ (YFC) choir which grew to more than 60 young people. Her greatest accomplishment was teaching the youth choir Handel’s Messiah, which they performed in concerts at Christmas time for many years at Burns.
The YFC choir rehearsed at the church on Friday nights. Afterwards, some of the youth would go to Alice’s home where they would enjoy tasty snacks and engage in lively Bible discussions on relevant youth topics.
Alice also worked tirelessly as church pianist and choir director at the Burns Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 50 years, during which time she helped to organize the Men of Burns Male Chorus, and established the Burns Ladies Chorus.
Alice taught music for over 30 years in two Seventh-day Adventist schools; Davison Junior Academy in Detroit, and Peterson-Warren Academy in Inkster, Michigan.
While working as a custodian at the Davison school in 1980, Arthur, her husband, mentioned to the principal that his wife played the piano. The school needed a music teacher and the principal expressed interest in Alice to fill that position. After a brief interview with Alice, the principal offered her a teaching position at the school. Alice accepted the offer, and for the next three years she taught the children not only how to sing songs but about music theory as well, so that they would understand what they were learning and why.
When her son, Arthur III, was hired to teach physical education at Peterson-Warren Academy in 1987, he suggested to the principal that they consider hiring his mother to teach since they were looking for a music teacher. The principal offered the position to Alice, but she declined several times, feeling that she was not qualified to teach music to students at the K-12 level.
Alice decided to pray; she recalled, “I got down on my knees and prayed about it," asking the Lord to show her a sign. She didn't have a car and needed something more reliable to commute to the school. She prayed for money to buy a car for transportation to school. God answered her prayer with a new Ford Taurus. So, she eventually accepted the position at PWA as music teacher.
Alice taught piano lessons to students arriving at the school at 7:30 a.m., taught students during her lunch hour, and again, after school until 6:00 p.m. before leaving for home.
In 2005, Alice was inspired to create a student band program at PWA. She worked closely with a local music store (Giffels) that helped the school purchase the instruments they needed. She would personally buy three or four instruments each year and then donate them to the school.
Alice developed a three-tiered band program, starting with students in the first and second grades, called the Blue Bird Band, which became the “pipeline” for supplying students for the elementary band, while working with students in the high school band. Eventually, Alice succeeded in establishing a school band with more than sixty students.
Alice had many favorite quotes or sayings that she’d like to repeat. Sayings such as, “There’s Nothing like Family”, or warning her erring students “I’m gonna light into your feathers”, or threatening her unruly students in her class, “Somebody’s head is gonna roll”
Alice became known as a firm, yet caring teacher who motivated her students to excel in music, as well as, other areas of their personal lives. She was highly loved and respected as a teacher, mentor, counselor, and friend to her students.
Throughout her career as music teacher and director, she received many awards and citations, including; an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by First Baptist College and Seminary in 1996. Upon retiring in 2012, she was recognized by the Academy for her service, the quality of her work, and the impact she made in the lives of her students.
During the past two years, Alice tuned in daily to the Motor City Unity Prayer line, as a faithful prayer warrior. She participated in various activities and field trips as a part of the Seniors Ministry at Burns. She enjoyed meeting with her senior friends at the Summit, a recreational facility in Canton, where she actively engaged in crocheting and other arts & crafts. She developed a special friendship with her Canton neighbors Mary and Rod Watts, who kept her in good supply of freshly baked cookies.
At home, Alice enjoyed sewing, knitting, working puzzles, and playing with the family pets; a dog named Tucker, and a cat named Atlas. She lived and embraced what a sign on her kitchen wall read, “Eat Well, Laugh often, Love Much.”
Alice was preceded in death by her husband; Arthur Strawbridge II, her son: Arthur Strawbridge III, her siblings: Sylvester, Leondo, Lester, Rose, Robert, William, Ann, and Gilbert II.
She leaves to cherish her memory: a loving and devoted daughter, Sherry, her faithful son, Dr. Tim, one sister, Barbara Seay, three grandchildren: Ayana Boyce (Michael) and Erica Gardner of Detroit, MI, and Olivia Griffith (Glyne) of Dallas, Texas, Nine great grandchildren: Xavier, Zarya, Jada, Derrion, Shadiamond, Tyler, all from Michigan; Jaelyn of Atlanta, GA., and Trey & Brooklyn Griffith of Dallas Texas. One newborn great great grandchild: Xolani Alice Gardner; Her beloved neighbors: Mary and Rod Watts of Canton, MI, and a host of nieces, nephews, relatives, students, and friends.
A public viewing is on Thursday, November 18 from 3 to 7 p.m. EST at Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit, followed by funeral services on Friday, November 19 at the Burns Church. Livestreaming is available at https://www.youtube.com/c/burnssdachurch.
Malissa Martin, Detroit-based freelance writer