Reminisce: Lima’s Sawyer sisters share love of music

The Sawyer sisters shared a birthplace, a love of music and, seemingly, little else.

Adelaide taught physical education and was a passionate sports fan. One of her heroes was Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, who was a close friend of two of her uncles. Sylvia studied music at Julliard and Columbia and sang opera in Italy.

Both women began life in Lima, the daughters of Andrew G. (Gerry) and Christine Jones Sawyer. Between the birth of Adelaide in October 1914 and Sylvia in April 1923, a son, Thomas, was born in July 1917.

Their father was born on the Fourth of July 1891 in Norwood. As a young man he became an engineer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and in 1913 was transferred to Lima. That same year he met Christine Jones, a native of Middletown, at the Chicago World’s Fair and the couple married the following year. Two of Christine’s brothers were college football coaches. Howard Jones coached at Syracuse, Yale, Ohio State, Iowa, Duke, and USC, while Thomas (Tad) Jones coached at Syracuse and Yale. Both brothers also played college football, and both are in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Sawyer left the railroad in 1919 and joined the Green Co., a Lima contractor. In 1920, he became a partner in the firm, which since then has been known as the Green and Sawyer Company. Among his many accomplishments, he engineered the building of the original Lima Stadium, Elks Building, Faurot School, the Ohio Theater and St. Gerard and St. John schools. In 1923, the Sawyers built a home at 1611 Lakewood Ave.

“Growing up during the First World War had its share of deprivations, but to Adelaide there was always a game to be played, and the faster and rougher it was, the better she liked it,” Lucille Green Querry wrote in a 1987 paper presented to the Lima Woman’s Club. “After two years at Lima Central a great aunt influenced her parents to send Adelaide away to a girl’s school for more refinement.”

Adelaide hated it. “I wasn’t permitted to participate in sports because my grades weren’t good enough, and I was so unhappy that I couldn’t concentrate to bring up my grades,” she told Querry. “The only pleasant memory I have of Emma Willard (the school in Troy, New York) is of one teacher who sympathized with me and invited me to her home to listen to the football games on her radio.” Following Notre Dame, where Rockne coached, and USC and Duke, where her uncles coached, “was more than an interest or hobby – with Adelaide it was a passion,” Querry noted.

After one year at Emma Willard, she transferred to the Birmingham School for Girls in Pennsylvania for her senior year. “She loved it there, participated in all the sports, especially hockey, and won most of the honors in athletics,” Querry wrote.

IN 1933, Adelaide entered Ohio Northern University and was graduated in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts in physical education and English. While at ONU, Adelaide led the women’s athletic association and the association of women students. After a year teaching at Beloit College in Wisconsin, she returned to Lima to teach physical education and English at Central High School. She also became a member of the Junior League, was active in the Community Fund, Red Cross Drives, and, Querry wrote, “everything that had anything to do with music.”

That life was put on hold during World War II. “Miss Adelaide Sawyer, Central senior high physical education teacher … has announced her acceptance into the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and will be the first woman teacher from Central to enter,” the Lima News reported April 16, 1943. After training at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Ensign Sawyer was assigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier Headquarters in New York City, which was set up to protect the East Coast from German submarines.

From a closed room on the fifth floor “Ensign Sawyer worked for three years plotting the location of ships and posting the positions on the huge map every four hours,” according to an article written for the Allen County Historical Society publication, the Reporter, in 1984.

Adelaide was joined in New York by her sister, Sylvia.

“She was educated at Lowell elementary and Central high schools,” the News wrote in a January 1952 article. After initially studying dance, Sylvia switched to singing after an uncle, who happened to hear her singing while she danced, remarked on her voice. “By the time she was a senior in high school, she had decided to make music her career,” the News noted.

“Two years after graduation, Sylvia entered Juilliard school of music and after that attended Columbia University. In the meantime, she had private voice teachers, coaches and operatic coaches,” the newspaper wrote. During this time, Sylvia shared an apartment with Adelaide and two other WAVE officers in the Columbia University area of New York.

Adelaide was released from the service in August 1946 and quickly resumed her work in Lima with the Junior Service League and Friends of Music. Sylvia, meanwhile, continued her music studies in New York.

In early 1953, accompanied by Adelaide, Sylvia sailed for Italy to, in the words of the News, “get actual dramatic and vocal experience.” By July 1953, the sisters were home in Lima, speaking to News columnist Hope Strong.

Sylvia, Strong wrote, “had behind her a Lima performance with the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra, numerous benefit shows, years of study at Juilliard school of music and Columbia university and private study with a famous Italian teacher in Italy.

“Today as the result of the Italian trip made with her sister, Adelaide, Sylvia has gained greatly in experience with a record 14 opera and concert performances and an equal number of ‘rave notices’ in Italian newspapers.” Sylvia, Strong added, turned down offers to participate in six more Italian operas. “I wish to get experience in this country now,” she told Strong.

In September 1953, Sylvia married Martin Kapp and the couple settled down on the East Coast, where Kapp was chief engineer for the New York Port Authority. Sylvia, “combining her interests in music and community affairs,” contributed “to the cultural enrichment of the residents of East Brunswick (New Jersey)” where the Kapps lived, the Central New Jersey Home News wrote November 9, 1966, the day after Sylvia died at the age of 43. The Sylvia Sawyer Kapp vocal prize given in Lima’s annual Young Musician’s Competition is named for her.

Adelaide, meanwhile, continued her work with the Friends of Music and served as chairman of the Green and Sawyer Co. In February 1977, she was instrumental in bringing opera star Beverly Sills to Lima. In 1982, along with her nephew, Tom Sawyer, she brought the Ohio Mixers of the Continental Basketball Association to Lima. The team left Lima after two years and folded after moving to Cincinnati for a year.

Adelaide died at the age of 77 on March 17, 1982.





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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