Nancy J. Summers, 67, died Tuesday, January 26 her birthday, peacefully at home, just a few months after a cancer diagnosis. She is survived by adored husband, Ken Ketchum; beloved sisters Sharon Burner, and Sally (Ron) Zahora, mother in law Jane Miner, father in law Donald Ketchum (Phyllis), sisters and brothers in law Kim Henningsen (Ron Vandeburg) Kyle Ketchum (Gini) Kristi Tracey(Fred); dear nieces and nephews John Edwin Fike (Erin), Laurie Fike, Christen Zahora, Michael Zahora (Bridie), Gregg Zahora, Freddy J Tracey, Lizzie Bates (Dakota Pasquale) Paul Sturdevant, Derek Sturdevant, Lori Ketchum, Leslie Ketchum; devoted friends Kristen Gilbert, Rev. Corey Turnpenny and Therese Walsh, and the many students since 1978 who have kept in touch over the years and been a source of Joy to the end.
Nancy was born to Gertrude “Trudy” Hickok Summers and Edwin Monroe Summers in early 1954 in the beautiful New England-like village of Franklin Forks, PA. Her Grandma Summers, who had grown up in that house, lived there until Nancy was 24, and was a wonderful link to the 1800s. Nancy was blessed to attend Montrose Area High School in the glory years of choral director Cyril Stretansky. His teaching and her experiences in Concert Choir heavily influenced her entire life. She knew while still in high school that she wanted to devote her life to bringing quality choral music to rural high school students. Graduating Magna Cum Laude from Crane School of Music at Potsdam, NY allowed her to do that for 30 years. Her first teaching job was at Delaware Valley Central School in Callicoon NY, (a district so small everyone K-12 was in one building) teaching General and Vocal Music K-12. She loved her years in the Western Catskills. Some of the happiest days of her life were spent rafting down the Delaware on a late spring afternoon! Summers there were spent working in various capacities at the famous Grossinger Hotel. Personal musical outlets while living in this remote area were singing in a registered, competition level Sweet Adelines quartet, and performing in Delaware Valley Arts Alliance Productions.
In the early 80s an opportunity arose to teach in the Southern Tier where she could be closer to her aging parents. Though she missed her ‘wild country’ Catskills, it was exhilarating to become part of the Gilbert & Sullivan and Tri-Cities Opera Chorus families, and to live near stores! More to do meant higher cost of living, so she took a part-time job as a singer and keyboard player with top area wedding/dance band Jon David’s Other Mood. Guess who was the Band Leader/Drummer? Ken and Nancy fell in love and have stayed that way ever since.
In a few years the ideal job became available at Whitney Point, a small, village-centered school. This also gave Nancy and Ken an excuse to move out of town to the country. They bought a beautiful 3-acre plot that was part of a large farm established in the late 1800s by NY State Supreme Court Justice Lyons as his summer home. The house Nancy and Ken have lived in for 30 years was the Farm Hands’ house. There they lovingly raised 7 dogs, 5 cats, Annabelle the potbelly pig, and 27 alpacas. Their large home made it possible for the band to practice there, for Ken to start a real studio, and later for Nancy to have room to store all the stuff to market the alpaca fiber. Between WPCS classes and Choral activities and wedding band The Promise adding up to an average 87-hour work week for Nancy, there was no longer time for being in year-round choirs herself. Thank God for the Greene Chamber Choir under the direction of Jan Strain! Meeting on Sunday evenings from late September to early December it was the only professional level choir in Broome that, for a few years at least, would fit her schedule.
Whitney Point High School’s Select Chorus trip to Vienna took place in December of 1997, The Promise hung up its gear New Years’ 2000. (Fun fact: one night while the Promise was playing on State Street and Kiss was in town, Gene Simmons wandered into the bar, Ken did the appropriate thing, saying “Mr. Simmons, would you care to sit in?” He jammed with them until 4 in the morning!)
Somewhere in there Nancy became the accompanist at the WP United Methodist Church, Nancy’s Mom died in Sept 2006, the first 5 alpacas were acquired in December 2006, Nancy’s Dad died in Feb 2007, and Nancy retired from school in June 2009, at which time the alpacas and vending of fiber became full-time. That meant, in her late 50s, Nancy basically went ‘back to college’ learning to care for large animals, wash, comb, hand-spin, crochet, weave, write ad copy, learn to set up a mobile vending booth, and build a customer base! All of these were made easier and fun by the incredible friends in Southern Tier Lamb to Loom. By 2016 Nancy and Ken realized Alpaca farming was not for them, not because of the work involved, which they loved, but because the only way to make money in Alpacas was to SELL alpacas, and they could not bear to part with them. They decided to search for the best homes possible and ‘rehome everybody’. Finally retirement? Not quite!
Nancy’s role as the pianist at the Whitney Point United Methodist Church expanded to choir director as well and, as with everything, Nancy poured her whole self into that work. Partnering with friends in the choir at Castle Creek UMC, hosting end of year ice cream parties for the choir, and spending hours searching for just the right pieces to support the themes of worship kept Nancy busy in retirement. She also continued to substitute in Whitney Point, perform in the School/Community musical productions, serve as a poll worker for local elections, and was the secretary for the Whitney Point Shakespeare Club. It was only in the last few years she was able to be part of two outstanding area choirs, Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and Southern Tier Singers Collective.
You would think with all her involvement and commitments Nancy may have struggled in 2020 as we all stayed home, but she relished in tending her gardens, snuggling Jack cat, and spending quality time with Ken. Nancy shared she felt guilty that she so enjoyed a year everyone else struggled through, but it was her ability to find joy in the simple things of life that filled her last year with happiness and love. Though her cancer diagnosis came on and progressed so quickly, she was able to receive a showering of love from hundreds who had been touched by her life. Through all the various roles she played on and off stage, she brought love to the lives of hundreds. The care, compassion, generosity, optimism, and faith she taught and lived has spread through countless lives, leaving our world forever changed for the good. Nancy Summers will long be remembered as an influential and talented musician who shaped the lives of thousands of students and brought great joy, love, and light to the world.
A celebration of her life will be shared online from the Whitney Point United Methodist Church at a date to be announced on their Facebook page: facebook.com/WhitneyPointUnitedMethodistChurch
and YouTube channel: youtube.com/channel/UC6Hb5c9FM_-ZYzdpCymHKGQ
In lieu of flowers please make a donation in Nancy’s honor to:
Whitney Point United Methodist Church
7311 Collins St. Whitney Point NY 13862
Franklin Forks United Methodist Church
P.O. Box 318 Montrose PA 18801
The Robert Wagner Scholarship
c/o Whitney Point Central School District
PO Box 249 Whitney Point NY 13862
SPEAK Animal Hospital
351 Flint Rd, Binghamton, NY 13905