BEING AMBASSADORS for The Bach Choir of Bethlehem comes naturally to Former Congressman Fred Rooney and his wife, Evie. Fred, who is a native of Bethlehem, went on to serve in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. He then earned his degree from the University of Georgia and entered the real estate and insurance business. In 1958, Fred was elected to the PA State Senate, where he served until 1963, when he won a bid to fulfill a vacancy in the 88th Congress. He continued to serve for seven succeeding Congresses before returning to the private sector as a consultant in Washington.
In recent years, Fred has been recognized locally for his impact in the Lehigh Valley. Appropriately, the Fred B. Rooney Highway (Rt. 378 in Bethlehem) and the Fred B. Rooney Building for affordable apartment living in SouthSide Bethlehem bear his name and attest to his commitment to transportation and housing issues in the region. Fred, who is proud to be celebrating his 90th birthday this year, credits his wife, Evie Lisle Rooney, with first introducing him to The Bach Choir. Evie adds, “My family has been part of The Choir for over 90 years. It has enriched our lives deeply.”
Evie’s roots in Bethlehem and her family’s history with The Choir do indeed go back almost a century, to her relatives who were involved from the founding of the organization. Evie recounts that her family was very engaged in the community and nurtured her appreciation for the arts and classical music, especially the music of Bach and The Bach Choir. She has early memories of Dr. Ifor Jones, fourth conductor of The Choir, coming to her family’s home to practice. Then starting around the age of eight, she recalls going to ticketed rehearsal concerts, where seats were assigned alphabetically. Seating in the “L” section assured the best vantage point to be able to fully appreciate The Bach Choir’s performance.
As a community leader in Washington, Evie, a graduate of Briarcliff College, has focused much of her energy to support the arts and educational programs for underserved students in Washington’s inner city. She has served on the boards of several Washington organizations. Despite the distance, Evie continues to serve as an engaged and thoughtful member of The Bach Choir’s board of managers. Evie is quick to praise artistic director and conductor Greg Funfgeld for all of the ways that he has advanced and developed The Choir saying, “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a board member and to work with Greg Funfgeld, an extraordinary leader. His commitment is an inspiration to my entire family.”
For both Fred and Evie, the annual performance of the Mass in B Minor remains their favorite event of the season. Evie, who cannot recall a year when she missed a Festival, enthusiastically describes the Mass as seeming fresh and exciting each time. Another favorite memory is the 1998 performance by acclaimed cellist YoYo Ma, which was part of The Bach Choir Centennial Celebration.
Always enthusiastic and energetic ambassadors for The Bach Choir, the Rooneys have helped to encourage several patrons and Guarantors from the D.C. area. They have instilled appreciation for the music and culture of The Choir in their children, Tim Rooney, Martha Rooney Webb and Greg Rooney and their families. Likewise, Evie’s sister, Lucy Murray Brown and her brother, John Lisle, and their respective families continue The Bach Choir tradition and often bring grandchildren and other relatives and friends to concerts.
Though the Rooneys established a home and full life in Washington D.C. many years ago, they remain committed to their roots and connection to The Bach Choir community. Evie explained that she and Fred view being Lifetime Guarantors as a way to demonstrate their commitment to long-term sustainability, in the hope that future generations will be able to enjoy The Choir.
Fred and Evie and their extended family remind us that, for many of our Guarantors, The Bach Choir is an important part of the tapestry of their life story and family legacy, just as they are an important part of ours! We are grateful to have them in our Guarantor family and especially want to wish Fred a happy birthday!