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Published: Tuesday, 12/31/2013

Alice Lucille Shurtz [1924-2013]; Patient piano teacher taught children, retirees in her home

Shurtz Shurtz

Alice Lucille Shurtz, who gave her first piano lesson as a high school student and taught until she became ill this month, died Saturday in her West Toledo home.

She was 89.

She had pancreatic cancer, her son, Robert, said.

Mrs. Shurtz, who went by “Lucille,” still had a student, Amanda Dugan, who stopped in every other week. For much of the last decade, though, she taught a half-dozen or so piano students, her son said. She taught 20 or more students into her late 70s.

“She just loved the piano and wanted others to love the piano and perform and enjoy it,” her son said. “She enjoyed talking to the students as well and having an ongoing friendship with them.”

Ms. Dugan was about 12 when she started lessons with Mrs. Shurtz. After a hiatus during college, Ms. Dugan returned as a graduate student.

“I would still play the piano, and she would still teach me, but it was a visit, and it evolved into that kind of relationship,” said Ms. Dugan, who recently received a doctorate in chemical biology from the University of Michigan.

Whatever her student’s Saturday morning casual garb, Mrs. Shurtz wore makeup and heels and a stylish dress or suit.

“She always looked fantastic,” Ms. Dugan said. “She was a graceful and elegant woman and very warm and loving.”

Mrs. Shurtz taught most often in her home, her students ranging from pre-schoolers to retirees. Playing scales and musical exercises helped develop technique, and she exposed advanced students to music theory. She wanted students to know how to play Bach or Chopin, but if a student wanted to play a popular song or a show tune, she’d buy the sheet music.

“She insisted on [students] memorizing the music and thought it was important that you’d feel it more, you’d be more musical,” her son said. “Rather than just playing the notes, you could make it sound like the music was a part of you.”

Mrs. Shurtz was, above all, patient.

“She was a very calm presence and let you make mistakes and learn from them,” Ms. Dugan said.

Mrs. Shurtz was born May 24, 1924, to Ethel and Harry Gifford and grew up on Ontario Street in North Toledo.

She took piano lessons at the Toledo Conservatory of Music and was a 1942 graduate of Woodward High School. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Toledo in 1946, but rather than teaching high school history or Latin, she decided she preferred giving piano lessons, her son said.

Mrs. Shurtz and her son traveled the country and the world, including an annual whirlwind tour of Broadway musicals — often 10 shows in seven days. “She really got excited about traveling and enjoyed music so much and all the beautiful sights we would see,” he said. “She got excited by the lights of the city.”

Mrs. Shurtz and her son made periodic trips to Las Vegas to attend performances by David Osborne, a pianist she admired.

She was a freshman at UT when she met her husband, Robert A. Shurtz. They dated for seven years before marrying on Oct. 15, 1949. He died Nov. 11, 1993.

Surviving is her son, Robert H. Shurtz.

Services will be at First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo on Pilliod Road, of which she was a longtime member. The family suggests tributes to the church.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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