Albion Historical Notebook



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The site had also previously been the home of other College presidents. For much of the 20th century however, this house served as the site of the Miller-Phipps studios. Mrs. Darleen (Wellington) Miller (1885-1978) and Nema Phipps (1888-1970) operated their voice and piano music studio here beginning in 1913.

Both ladies were highly educated in their music field. Through the years they were involved in numerous performances across the country, as well as productions locally. The accomplishments of their careers are too numerous to mention here on account of the limited space we have in this column. The ladies operated their studio here for more than 55 years until the death of Nema Phipps in 1970. Many Albion youth took lessons from either Mrs. Miller or Miss Phipps, including yours truly.

“Miss Phipps,” as she was known, came to Albion College as an instructor in music (piano) during the 1912-13 academic year. The 1913 Albionian yearbook stated, “The co-educational idea, which is part and parcel of the Albion College idea, has been further fortified by the late addition of another member of the gentler sex to our faculty. Miss Nema Phipps comes to us from Chicago, for the purpose of showing awkward fingers ways and means of manipulating the black and white keys of the dignified grand piano in a way to draw forth upon the waiting air, melodies and flights of musical fancy that delight the listening ear.”

I know how she did it, as well as other former pupils of hers do, too whom I’ve spoken with. I began piano lessons from Miss Phipps in October, 1959 at the age of 6. I took lessons from her for many years until she had her stroke in the late 1960s. (Note: I was not the reason she had her stroke). On the ledge of the piano was placed an object that one might not expect to see included as part of a pianist’s equipment. A metronome, perhaps? No. A tuning fork? No. How about a 12-inch wooden ruler!? Yes, that ruler helped ensure that her students (mostly boys for this purpose) were precise in their playing and practicing. I don’t remember if that ruler had that copper wire edge on one side or not. It doesn’t matter. What I do remember is just that it was there for every lesson, ready for the purpose it was intended for. Somehow, I get that feeling that this type of object wouldn’t be allowed as part of today’s modern music teaching practices.

With the house being right there in the midst of the Albion College campus, at some point the College decided it would like to regain the property for its own again. The two ladies were close to Floyd Starr, and around 1962 Mrs. Miller deeded the house to Starr Commonwealth for Boys. It was a lifetime lease arrangement. Starr became responsible for the taxes and physical maintenance of the structure. Unfortunately for the College, the ladies lived to be 82 and 92 respectively, with Mrs. Miller passing away in 1978. It was only after that that the College obtained the house and property from Starr Commonwealth and rehabilitated it, renaming it the Fiske House. Today it is used to house students.

When Miss Phipps died in 1970, she was cremated, and I heard that her cremains were shipped to her brother Park Phipps (1892-1980) in California for burial there at a later date. I don’t even remember a funeral for her. In those days, cremation was viewed as an odd or strange practice, reserved for members of some religious sect or fraternal group. Subsequently, I’ve not found any record of her cremains being interred anywhere. From our Historical Notebook we present a 1913 photograph of Miss Nema Phipps, long-time piano teacher in Albion. How many of our readers had Miss Phipps as your piano teacher? Do you remember your recitals?