1999 Award Recipients

Sandra Balmer, a church organist and choir director from Marquette, and Mary Ganfield, an elementary school music teacher for the Negaunee school system, were the recipients of the 1999 U. P. Choral Leadership Award.


Sandra Myers Balmer, a native of Sebring, Ohio, moved to Marquette in 1970 with her husband, Don. They have a daughter, Susan. 


She earned a bachelor's degree in music education in 1961 from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania and a master of music degree in organ performance from Indiana University in 1966. Since 1970 Mrs. Balmer has been the organist at the First United Methodist Church in Marquette where she accompanies and occasionally directs the adult sanctuary choir, directs the children's choir, and founded and directs several bell choirs. 

She gave time to her students beyond what was necessary for music preparation and presentation. She helped students develop pride and self esteem and promoted a positive outlook while demanding discipline and perfection, and requiring the memorization of difficult music. Though this, she won students' love and respect. It was a source of pride to be in one of Miss Freethy's choruses. In teaching the fundamentals of music, she also taught the fundamentals of a productive and satisfying life: hard work, discipline, commitment, team work, and fun. Students learned from her how self-discipline can lead to genuine fun, excellence and achievement. 

In 1975 she volunteered to be a counselor at the new United Methodist Fine Arts Camp for youth at Camp Michigamme. During the following six years she served first as director and then as co-director of the camp. Her leadership is cited for shaping the camp's program and for laying a solid foundation for growth. The camp has served hundreds of young people from the Upper Peninsula and beyond. 

Over the years Mrs. Balmer has generously given of her time to accompany elementary, middle and high school vocal and instrumental soloists and ensembles for festivals and recitals. She has often traveled great distances at her own expense on short notice with little time to practice difficult music. She makes time, not only for the event, but for the related rehearsals, offering personal attention and careful constructive criticism until the young musician feels ready to give a polished, award-winning performance. Her example of nurturing, perseverance, commitment and dedication has left a lasting impression on many of these young people. 

Mrs. Balmer was a charter member of the Marquette Choral Society, and in 1996 was one of five people to receive a silver 25-year pin for having sung in all of the Society's concerts. She has supported the chorus as rehearsal and concert accompanist, substitute rehearsal director, vice president and 25th Anniversary program chair. As concert accompanist, she has performed choral masterworks by Brahms, Rutter and Randall Thompson. Especially memorable is her 1995 performance of Johannes Brahms' A German Requiem. 

Mrs. Balmer has also served on the Marquette Community Concert Association board since 1972. 



Mary Ganfield is a native of Marquette. She received her elementary and middle school education at St. Michael School, and graduated from Marquette Senior High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Northern Michigan University in 1977. From 1980 to 1986 she taught in Reese, Michigan, and from 1987 to the present has been the music director at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee. In 1988 she founded The Lakeview Chorus, an auditioned chorus of 100 third through fifth graders. 

Miss Ganfield is able to challenge students having difficulty excelling in other areas of education and frequently is able to lead them to excellence through music, often by offering them a highly sought after part and working with them to meet the challenge. During this process they develop the drive to rise above expectations, discover that they can be better than they had thought possible, and learn the connection between discipline and high achievement. Miss Ganfield finds "a niche for the talent of each child to shine as a star," be it in stage management, creative lyrics and other writing, or scenery preparation. 

In 1997 Miss Ganfield and her chorus produced a professionally recorded tape of patriotic music. The children met the challenge enthusiastically. After Songs of Freedom was taped, they eagerly sold copies to the community. They even sent copies to the President of the United States and local and state dignitaries. 

In addition to performing standard school repertoire, her chorus has performed with the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, singing Ralph Vaughan Williams' Three Children's Songs and Gary Kulesha'sThe Drift of the Stars. 

Miss Ganfield has directed the Adult Choir at St. Michael Parish in Marquette for thirteen years. While growing up in the parish, she was a youth organist and choir member. Her love for liturgical music endures, and her music ministry at the parish contributes significantly to the life of St. Michael's. 

Miss Ganfield has found a combination of tough-love, high behavior standards and perfectionism that encourages the development of happy, successful children. She is cited as having an indelible positive attitude, and having "made a very positive impact on the youth of Negaunee." She is one who is "truly a winner in making a difference in the lives of children." She develops "an attitude that the world should sing!"