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Friends reflect on 'integral' member of musical community

By Joanne Beck
Roxie Choate
Roxanne "Roxie" Choate

Generosity — of her time, friendship, possessions, and passion for music, life, and all creatures — is something that Roxanne “Roxie” Choate will be remembered for by her friends, family, and fellow choir members, they say.

A music teacher at Oakfield-Alabama school, president of Genesee Symphony Orchestra, choir director and bell choir member, and organist at Batavia First Presbyterian Church for many years, Choate became a fixture to many for her connections to the notes on the page and the songs in the air. She died on Oct. 5 at Le Roy Village Green Nursing Home.

“Roxie loved music and loved to share it with others. She had the gift of discovering talent and connecting people to choirs or musical groups. Many of our music leaders in the church today were mentored by Roxie,” the Rev. Roula Alkhouri of Batavia First Presbyterian said. “I loved watching the friendship she had with Melzie Case, our organist/choir director. The music was what brought them together, but their friendship grew deep. We are so grateful to have Melzie, but without Roxie, it would not have been possible.

"The same is true of Cheri Kolb. Roxie was the connection for Cheri to our church,” Alkhouri said. “The Bell Choir is something that she started in our church as well.”

Alkhouri also noted Choate’s tremendous generosity when it came to her time, talent, and resources. She had an apparent green thumb and was also skilled in the culinary world. 

“Every summer I got tomatoes and other goodies from her garden. Every Christmas, I received a beautiful wreath for our home to put on our door. I got to taste many of her wonderful meals as she often shared them with me,” Alkhouri said. “Every year she spent a lot of time and effort thinking about the Christmas gifts she was going to give to the members of her bell choir. She would get so excited about the selection. One year, she found beautiful ornaments that were quite expensive and bought only a few of them at a time until she was ready to share them by Christmas. Roxie was also generous with her time and energy. She volunteered for anything that was needed at church, even for jobs she didn’t necessarily enjoy. Her spirit of service was exemplary.”

Melzie Case met Choate several years ago when in the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, where she developed a friendship with someone who was an “advocate, leader, and volunteer in the GSO for numerous years,” and also served as Board president, vice president, personnel manager, ad book co-chair, string workshop coordinator and helped to organize the first Summer Serenade events, “in addition to performing countless tasks behind the scenes that have helped the GSO to thrive.”

“She was integral in virtually every aspect of the orchestra’s operations and I believe the GSO is successful today because of her work and contributions,” Case said. “I first met Roxie in 2009 when I became involved with the GSO as a high school student, and we worked closely together on the Board over the years. In 2019 Roxie asked me to accompany the choir at the Batavia First Presbyterian Church where I also enjoyed playing piano and organ duets with her. Whether it was a phone call about the orchestra or a choir rehearsal, we shared many laughs and the joy of making music over the years. 

“Roxie, a music educator, was passionate about bringing music to the community,” Case said. “She was a friend in music to me and so many others, and her impact will be felt for years to come.” 

Paul Saskowski worked with Choate on the GSO board about eight years ago and recalled how she covered many positions at the time.

“And (she) would tirelessly work for the GSO. We worked as co-presidents through the process to hire Shade,” Saskowski said. “She was dedicated and relentless.”

Sarah Wahl and Sherry Mosher shared how tenacious Choate was when it came to leading the bell choir. She took on that role in 2009, and passed along “to all of us handbell ringers her passion for precision and excellence,” Mosher shared on behalf of her and Wahl.

“Many of us wondered how she was able to detect a wrong bell was played when five bells played a chord. ‘Someone picked up the wrong bell; that was supposed to be a B flat,’ she would promptly say. Either no one admitted to it or you would hear a loud ‘Oh no, how could she possibly catch that.’ We became performance-ready in no time thanks to her leadership,"  Mosher said.

The bell choir performed at the Holland Land Office Museum, the VA, and Genesee County Nursing Home (now Premier) and for many worship services at the church.  The season was capped off when “Roxie graciously hosted a wonderful party for the ringers and spouses at her and Mike's beautiful home,” she said.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though Choate’s leadership did come with a sense of humor, Mosher said. She answered the call to lead the First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir when a director was needed and never held back from selecting challenging anthems.

“More than once, after one or two go-arounds on a new song, many of us questioned whether we could ever learn the song. In fact, the first whirl on one song with multiple key changes and back-and-forth repeats, we ended up in a loud outburst of laughter,” Mosher said. “However, with Roxie's persistence and direction,  we learned it and performed it very well. No doubt, Roxie passed along to us her love of music, pride, and performance perfectionism. For all FPC Handbell Ringers and Choir members alike, we all miss Roxie and deeply value our years of friendship, leadership, and her passion for music.”

As much as she loved music, Choate also had a deep faith and loved God, Jesus, and the church, Alkhouri said.  For Mother’s Day each year, the gift she asked for was to have her whole family go to church with her. 

“Even during her recent illness, Roxie never waivered in her trust in God’s care for her. She was not afraid because she knew and felt the love of God,” Alkhouri said. “Roxie loved her family so much. I would often get to hear the love in her voice as she spoke about her children and their family. She was an amazing mother, grandmother, and a great-grandmother.

“Roxie was such a great example of strength. She faced all the challenges of life with a sense of commitment to the common good no matter what she was facing. Until the middle of June, Roxie was always on the go and was involved in so many community activities, even as she cared for her husband,” Alkhouri said. “She inspired me in times of hardship. During the pandemic, Roxie was also willing to adapt and change to meet the music needs of the church.” 

A truism about Choate was that “once you became Roxie’s friend, you became a friend for life,” Alhouri said. That was true even for the cherished kitties under her care. 

“Roxie has had a huge impact on my life and the lives of many. I know that I am a better person because of knowing Roxie and having her as my friend,” Alkhouri said. “What a blessing to have had her in my life and as part of our community.”

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