Fae Church

Inspiration for life can come from many things, great and small. Some folks are inspired by the great athleticism of a football hero. Other people by the words written in a book or acted on screen. Still some may be moved by the simple act of flowers growing ina garden. Music is what allowed Fae Church to see beyond the set backs she has had to overcome in life.

When Fae was born her father was working as a lumberjack. Life was difficult living in Red Springs and Fae's father had to get a second job delivering groceries to make ends meet for the family of seven children. This family was similar to families in the area except that Fae's older brother Sidney was born blind. It was soon discovered that Fae too would lose her eyesight. Before Fae was four years old the fuzzy colors and shapes had all faded away. Fae doesn't remember the optometrist's word for her condition, but essentially the inner lenses of her eyes had grown shut. Even though she couldn't see Fae remembers being a bit of a tomboy and enjoyed climbing trees and wrestling her brothers.

Fae’s parents were very concerned about the education of their children and so decided to move to Janesville. Janesville, Wisconsin was the home of the Wisconsin State School for the Blind. The name has since been changed to the School for the Visually Handicapped for politically correct reason and the fact that not all the students are completely blind. Fae began her education at the age of 7 years old. Then when she entered the second grade she began her first piano lessons. Fortunately the lessons were free at school or her family would never been able to afford them.

From an early age, Fae’s ears were filled with the sound of music. Her Grandfather played the violin and was a welcome addition to many area house parties. Later in her life during the years of prohibition her father played banjo and her brother played the violin. House parties were particularly popular during this era, as it was illegal to party openly.

Going to school in Janesville was not always pleasant. For the most part the teachers were kind but the supervisors in the dormitories were cruel. During her time at the boarding school, Fae was the recipient of a lot of prejudice for being Native and blind. To Fae the supervisors were never physical, but they would play favorites and have different rules for different kids. The final straw for Fae and the School for the Blind came when Fae was a sophomore. She came head-to-head with her Citizenship teacher when he wouldn’t give her passing marks even though she knew the lessons were correct. She doesn’t know how she had the courage that day, but she told her instructor that by not passing her he was wasting his time and hers and would no longer continue at the school.

During the years of WWII, Fae wanted to help the war effort by working in a factory in Elkhorn, WI but found much resistance from her mother. Her mother was concerned about her daughter’s welfare but was more concerned about what people would think. A women working outside the home was something that older people thought improper in that day and age.

Taking her mother’s advice Fae stayed home and started a family. She had two children. Her son and daughter became the main focus of her life, as she had to raise the children on her own. She is proud that her children stayed out of trouble growing up because she saw so many kids go down the wrong path when both parents were working.

Ironically her first job was working in a dark room at a Neenah hospital developing X-ray film. Fae is very independent and it was thought that she would be better off moving away from Janesville. She bought a house and was able to go to and from work using public transit system. After a few years the hospital bought an automatic film processor and Fae’s hours were cut in half.

She couldn’t survive working the job any longer, but the job gave her the confidence to move back to Janesville. She was able to get a job working in a factory that made transformers for TV sets. To supplement her income she took a job working at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor playing the piano. The words to the songs were projected on the wall and it was her job to get people singing as entertainment for the evening. She also worked with different bands throughout the area playing at the Legion, Moose Hall and house parties.

Through these years, Fae’s health began to fail. Diagnosed with osteoporosis, a degenerative bone ailment, Fae began to have difficulty getting around. Soon her ailment had her in the hospital. Fae remembers this part of her life as being the lowest. This is also where the story gets very interesting. While lying in a hospital bed, thinking and almost wishing the end were near, Fae saw a vision. Being blind she laughed when she said that and then changed it instead to an impressive thought. At that point she asked God to forgive her if he wasn’t satisfied or heal her if there was something left for her to do. That evening she slept better than she had in a long time. When she awoke she felt strong enough to get out of bed. Soon she was strong enough to get around using a walker.

She began to play music again and started to experiment with recording. After she had practiced for about a month she was asked to join her brother, playing piano for his gospel quartet. For the next 12 years she traveled as far away as Florida spreading the good news of the gospel congregation by congregation. With the "Gospel-aires" Fae had found a life’s calling and recorded three albums with the group.

Fae admits that she doesn’t play the piano much since retiring from the "Gospel-aires", but during our interview proved that her fingers still have a soft touch on the keyboard. She had lived on the reservation for the past fifteen years and spends her time taking care of her animals and reading Braille versions of magazines. She also enjoys the company of her children and grandchildren. She played music at Pastor Shriners wedding on June 23rd.