Obituary: Sue Garnhart / Upper St. Clair piano teacher put her students first

April 9, 1940 - April 23, 2013

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In the week before her death, Sue Garnhart had begun coughing often and sometimes struggling to breathe. But not when she was teaching piano.

Then she seemed to forget about everything but the student, the music and the lesson, her husband said. And her students kept working as hard as ever.

From her first years as a sixth-grade teacher to her final days teaching piano students of all ages, Mrs. Garnhart's rapport with her students came from her deep love of them, said her husband, Ned Garnhart.

"When a teacher loves their kids, it just does wonders for the students," said Mr. Garnhart, of Upper St. Clair. "It isn't just putting up with them and trying to be a good theoretical teacher -- it's loving them that pulls out all of this response, I think."

Mrs. Garnhart died Thursday. She was 73.

Born April 9, 1940 to John and Laura (Bletzinger) Garnhart, Mrs. Garnhart grew up in Mt. Lebanon and graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 1958.

She had met her husband-to-be as a high school sophomore -- she helped him with his Latin lessons, they went roller-skating together and then started dating -- and the couple continued dating after she went off to school at Westminster College and he began attending Carnegie Mellon University.

After graduating in 1962, Mrs. Garnhart began working as a sixth-grade teacher at Jefferson School in Mt. Lebanon. After dating for eight years, the Garnharts married in 1964 and had their sons, Geff and Sean, in 1967 and 1970.

Mrs. Garnhart left her job to care for her children full time, but was persuaded by a member of their church who wanted piano lessons for her daughters to begin teaching piano classes at home even though her sons were still infants.

"She was cautious but she started in and pretty soon she had seven or 10 students," Mr. Garnhart said. "It was a wonderful answer because she could be there for our boys and could keep teaching."

His wife was particularly good at starting new students and gauging the progress of existing ones, he said. Her skill helped students relax and focus on the lesson.

"She was very patient, very thorough and very conscious of whether a kid was getting it or not, and very good at pacing -- keeping it slow if that's what was needed, or moving it along if they needed to go faster," he said.

Those lessons continued even after the couple moved to Friendship Village, an assisted-living facility that encouraged them both -- Mr. Garnhart teaches art -- to continue giving lessons from their new apartment.

"The kids would come over the lawn and in our patio door, just like at home," he said. "It was a miracle."

It was a miracle that helped keep his wife focused on something she loved, even when she wasn't feeling well. She was at her best, he said, when she was teaching.

"Then, she was theirs," he said. "Then, she wasn't looking at herself at all."

Mrs. Garnhart was an active member and past president of the Pittsburgh Piano Teachers Association and the Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association. She also served her church, First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Mt. Lebanon as Sunday school teacher, reader, board member and music committee chair.

A memorial service will be held at Friendship Village, 1290 Boyce Road, Upper St. Clair, at 10:30 a.m. May 4.

Contributions to either the local piano teachers group, PPTA, or state group, PMTA, may be sent to the attention of Ellen Johnson at 119 Hoodridge Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15228.

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.


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