TEMPE, Ariz. Betty Casselman Bradford, a teacher, choral conductor, and enthusiastic inspirator of music performances in churches and community groups wherever she lived, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, at her home here in Friendship Village. She was 91 years old.
Known in Hiawatha for her music direction at the First United Methodist Church in the 1960s through the 1980s, she conducted a choir in every community in which she lived throughout her life. Dec. 2019 marked her 70th consecutive Christmas concert as singer or conductor in her native Nebraska, in Kansas or in Arizona.
Born into the Great Depression and losing her father at age 3, Betty quickly learned the power of abiding faith, a compassionate community and life-enriching purpose. Bettys passion for music and teaching were modeled by her mother, a music educator in Chester, Nebraska.
Betty flourished as an active member in church and school groups there; she taught herself to play the pipe organ at the Methodist Church. She graduated from Chester High School and studied music education, piano and organ at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
At Wesleyan she met Richard Dick Casselman, a student with a beautiful baritone voice. They were married in 1951 and then lived in Norfolk, Nebraska, and Cozad, Nebraska, where Dick was a funeral director and Betty taught and directed church choirs. They also lived in Winnebago, Nebraska, and Imperial, Nebraska, and Belleville, Kansas, as Dick grew his career as a funeral director and Betty taught and continued her church music activities.
In 1964 Dick purchased the Meek Mortuary in Hiawatha. In addition to conducting several vocal choirs and organizing an English handbell choir at the United Methodist Church, Betty participated in several service organizations and became the first woman to serve on the Hiawatha Community Hospital board. She also saw a need for Grief and Loss education, and, after studying the field, she organized and presented classes for church, civic and service groups. She and Dick also sponsored youth groups and participated in community activities.
After Dicks death in 1994, Betty relocated to Mesa, Arizona, where she was active in the Velda Rose United Methodist Church choirs and led the Leisure World chorus. At Velda Rose, she was introduced to another talented baritone, Paul C. Bradford. They married in 1996 and, after taking their children and grandchildren along on their honeymoon, Betty and Paul shared 19 years of singing in choirs and choruses. They enjoyed traveling together to see family and friends in the U.S. and in Europe. Paul died in 2015.
Betty taught and conducted with high expectations of herself, her students, and her choir members, though rehearsals reflected her humor and ability to laugh at herself. These qualities endeared her to those she taught and directed, especially when they performed beyond their own expectations. She embraced the nicknames imparted by her handbell choir, Head Ding-a-Ling and by the chancel choir, The White Tornado, a reference to her white hair and busy life.
Betty was born March 3, 1929, in Dixon, Nebraska, to a Methodist pastor, the Rev. Elmer Corbit, and his wife, Ruth (Watson) Corbit.
Betty was preceded in death by her husband, Dick Casselman; her second husband, Paul Bradford; her daughter, the operatic soprano Jayne Casselman Mohr; and a step-grandson, Ryan Powell; her siblings, Elmer Wayne (Betty) Corbit and Ruth (Virgil) Canning; and her step-siblings: Dale Eickman, Don Eickman, Warren Eickman, Milton Eickman, Ruth Irene Eickman, Neal Eickman and Margie TeKolste.
She is survived by her son, Richard Dierck Casselman (Scott Van Hove) of Miami Beach, Florida; her daughter, Claire Casselman (Lisa Hesse) of Ann Arbor, Michigan; step-daughter, Barbara Eschbach (Rick Wall) of Chandler, Arizona; step-sons, Bert (Kerri) Bradford of Christianson, Virginia, and Bruce Bradford of Galveston, Texas; grandson Jonas Fister of Mayer, Arizona; granddaughter, Rebecca Mohr of Munster, Germany; step-grandchildren, Erin Wilcox of Chandler, Arizona, Jeremy Bradford of Silver Springs, Maryland, Jessica St. Clair of Christiansburg, Nicole Bradford of Seattle, Washington, Katy Vargas of Tomball, Texas, and Paula Bradford of Sherman Oaks, California; many beloved nieces and nephews; and seven step-great-grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held at a time when gatherings are appropriately safe.
Her family identified the following memorial opportunities:
Jayne Casselman Vocal Scholarship, Yavapai College Foundation, 1100 E. Sheldon Street, Prescott, AZ 86301. Memo line on check: Jayne Casselman Vocal Scholarship.
Tempe First United Methodist Church, 215 E. University Dr., Tempe, AZ 85281. Memo line on checks: Betty Bradford Memorial
Kiwanis International Childrens Fund, P.O. Box 6457 - Dept #286, Indianapolis, IN 46206. Memo line on checks: Betty Bradford Memorial As published in the Hiawatha World.