Former music teacher’s passing prompts memories of her influence on students, flourishing music program

(Photo used by permission of Julie Nelson)
Former music teacher Barbara Lazar and kindergarten teacher Mari-Lu Marcus at the Fall Family Festival in 1985.

Barbara Lazar taught the music program at Country Day from 1980-2006 with the patience of a saint, a great sense of humor, a melodious voice, a joyful personality, a kind heart and a passion for music, those who remember her said.

Lazar died on the morning of Feb. 2 after a battle with lung cancer; however, her accomplishments at Country Day are unforgettable for both her former students and her former colleagues.

High-school history teacher Daniel Neukom and high-school English teacher Patricia Fels’s twin daughters Francie and Kelly, both ’04, had Lazar as their music teacher throughout lower school.

“She instilled a deep appreciation of music (in them),” Neukom said. “She organized creative, and especially fun, musical activities. Francie and Kelly were taught to sing and perform.

“I think they enjoyed her classes more than any other in their elementary years.”

Lazar also taught high-school history teacher Sue Nellis’s  children, Whitney Gorton, ‘04, and her son Jared Gorton,’08. Because Jared had a hard time saying Lazar’s name, he called her Mrs. “Mazar” when he was young, Nellis said.

Nellis also said that Lazar had a great impact on her children.

“When my son was in third grade, he had a health emergency, and it was the day before the big third-grade performance,” Nellis said. “I was in contact with her about what we were going to do, but fortunately he was well enough to perform.

“I could tell that it was really meaningful for him to be in that music program with his friends and with Barbara.”

[sidebar title=”Barbara Lazar’s Memorial Service” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]

The memorial service for Lazar will be Saturday, March 4,  at 1 p.m. at the Unitarian Church (2425 Sierra Blvd.).


As for Nellis’s daughter, Lazar had an even longer-lasting effect.

“My daughter just loved music so much,” Nellis said. “She sang all the time. She graduated in 2004, and her class was a very singing class.

“When I had (that class) in AP U.S. History, they would always sing on Friday afternoons a song about Friday (being their) favorite day. They would end class every Friday that way, and they learned that in Barbara Lazar’s class.”

Lazar will also be remembered as a devoted colleague.

Pre-K teacher Barbara Fackenthall met Lazar for the first time 38 years ago. At that time, Fackenthall was the school’s receptionist.

“Barbara (Lazar) was one of the most creative and well-organized teachers I’ve ever worked with,” Fackenthall said. “She was very talented musically and artistically. She mastered calligraphy and was often called upon to letter posters and certificates.”

Fackenthall also describes Lazar as lots of fun.

“Barbara had a wonderful sense of humor,” Fackenthall said. “It was fun to work with her at school but even more fun to socialize after hours. I remember many funny stories and lots of time spent in laughter.”

When second-grade teacher Jane Gillette came to Country Day in 2002, she said that Lazar gave her a warm welcome.

“Even though I was new to the community, and she was an established part of the community, she welcomed me right in,” Gillette said. “She was inspiring to her students. She knew how to get them excited about music and make it fun. The kids loved to go to music with her.”

Last year, Gillette taught Lazar’s granddaughter, third grader Rya Allen.

“(Lazar) came into my classroom a few times to help out as a grandma, and she still had that same enthusiasm,” Gillette said.

That enthusiasm, fellow teachers say, is what kept the attention of the young kids she was teaching.

“She had so much enthusiasm and grace under fire,” Nellis said. “Working with children of all these different ages and trying to keep them on track is a big challenge. And she always did it so well.”

In her first year at the school, eighth-grade English teacher Lauren LaMay taught Lazar’s son, Jason Allen, ‘95, in Pre-K. (Lazar’s daughter Jennifer, ‘92, also attended SCDS). LaMay describes Lazar as a diamond in the rough.

“She had the patience of a saint, teaching squirrely little kids – many of whom were tone deaf – such cute songs,” LaMay said.

LaMay said she was always impressed with Lazar’s song selection.

“I don’t know where she found them, but she always had an ever-evolving repertoire of charming songs for kids about interesting, wonderful things,” LaMay said. “There was always a sense of wonder and purpose to the songs she chose.

“They weren’t just rinky-dink stupid silly things. There were underlying themes that often related to (the) curriculum that they were studying in their classes, or about basic goodness, love (and) friendship.”

LaMay noted that before Lazar, there was really no music program.

“She really founded music at Country Day. She was the patron saint of music here,” LaMay said.

“Before her, there was really just sort of scattershot informal hit-or-miss stuff. She really pulled it together in some kind of a coherent program that left the (blueprint) for what we now have.”

And that legacy established music as an important part of the curriculum.

“(Barbara) set up a wonderful program for the school that (lower-school music teacher) Elena Bennett has continued,” Nellis said. “She began laying that foundation for the importance of music at this school.”

Besides teaching music in the lower school, Lazar also worked as a kindergarten assistant, a summer school director, and a founder of both the Lifer tradition and the Sports Boosters organization.

Lazar was awarded the Francie Tidey Award for Excellence in Education at last year’s graduation ceremony.

By Jackson Margolis

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