Elijah Griffith performs "Total Praise" during Saturday morning's service. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
A display in honor of Cappie Dickerson was set up in the church foyer. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Rev. Dr. Denison Harrield Jr., pastor of Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church gives the meditation. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Former Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt offers his remembrances of Cappie. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Susan Hairston shares her memories. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Samuel Sulcher plays a piano solo. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Christopher Moore remembers his Saturday morning piano lessons. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Graeme Cowen shares his memories of his former teacher. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Frank Bolden gives the eulogy. Credits: Christy Potter Kass
Summit Bids an Emotional Farewell to Capitola Dickerson
Sunday, September 23, 2012 • 6:30am
SUMMIT, NJ – The day after what would have been her 99th birthday, friends, community members and former students gathered to say farewell to Capitola Dickerson.
The woman affectionately known as “Cappie,” died in June, but her memorial service was held Saturday morning at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Summit. The sanctuary was full as people of all ages, colors and religious beliefs came together to remember the woman who touched so many lives.
The service was a celebration of the life of a woman who taught generations of children to play the piano with the same tireless energy she fought for equal rights, the woman who had hundreds of friends yet always made the person she was talking to feel like they were the most important person in the world.
Former students took to the piano to play songs in tribute to their beloved teacher. Elijah Griffith played and sang “Total Praise.” Samuel Sulcher played “Afternoons,” and Tom Varner played “There is a Balm in Gilead” on the French horn. Graeme Cowen played the postlude, “Maruntel,” a Romanian folk dance Cappie taught him years ago.
Other former students offered remembrances of Cappie, sharing stories that brought a laugh from everyone who remembered the same sort of moments with her. Her longtime friend Frank Bolden, who delivered the eulogy, said more people wanted to speak about Cappie than what time constraints would allow.
Rev. Dr. Denison Harrield Jr., pastor of Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, where Cappie was a long-time member, gave the meditation, and the Wallace Chapel choir sang. Former students JoAnn Dolle and Kathy Lucas read scripture verses. Former student Judy Sims Robinson offered a prayer. William Robinson, accompanied by another former student, Patricia Jackson, sang “Going Home.”
Former Mayor Jordan Glatt recalled the day she told him to call her “Cappie,” instead of “Miss Dickerson.” Others remembered her telling them the same thing, but found they could only call her Miss Dickerson.
Glatt told of being in the shelter with her after the October snowstorm last year, and plugging in his cell phone so he could take calls from constituents who were upset at not having electricity.
“She came over and unplugged my phone – while I was still on it, no less – and said, ‘You’ll never make them all happy. Go home and get some rest,’” Glatt said.
“I can remember playing and hearing her call from the kitchen, ‘You’re not using the right finger!’” said Susan Hairston, who said she was only a student of Cappie’s for a short time as she didn’t have the aptitude for piano. She added that later, her own children were Cappie’s students.
“She was always concerned about everyone in the community,” Hairston said “She demanded excellence of everyone, for everyone. I want to put out the challenge to all of us to continue the inspiration she gave to others.”
Former student Christopher Moore shared that he took lessons from Cappie for years. He remembered showing up for his Saturday morning lesson with hands that weren’t too clean, and how she took him into the kitchen and washed his hands with Palmolive.
“I don’t play piano now – I didn’t play piano then,” he joked. “I’m a writer and an editor, but I still wouldn’t think of sitting down at a keyboard with dirty hands.”
Moore said Cappie was “the most evolved person, and the greatest person, I ever knew.”
“I was grateful to her, I will always be grateful to her, for those Saturday mornings,” he said.
Leigh Rosoff, who taught preschool with Cappie, remembered how she would always match the piano music to how the kids were behaving.
“If they were acting out, she played acting out music,” Rosoff said. “They loved her, and she loved them.”
She recalled going to Cappie’s home earlier this year when she heard her old friend’s health was failing. They talked, they prayed together, and as she was leaving, Rosoff said she thought to herself, “What a blessing you are.”
“Thank you, Cappie, for being you,” she said. “You will be missed. Your shimmering spirit shines in all our hearts.”
Many people spoke of Cappie’s determination to see equal rights for all people, and her tireless crusades for equal rights as a resident of Summit. They talked of the discrimination she endured as a black woman in the 30s, 40s and 50s, and how she never let the problems she faced discourage her or make her bitter. Instead, she used them to fuel her in the fight for equality for everyone, and embraced the differences in others.
“Yes, she taught music, but what she really taught us was not to be afraid or suspicious of differences between people,” Bolden said. “Cappie came as close to fulfilling her own uniqueness as anyone I ever knew.”
He told how two of her former students, now living in other states, dropped what they were doing when they heard her health was failing, and flew to New Jersey to comfort her in her final days.
“Those who saw a frail little old black woman when they looked at her missed the bigger picture entirely,” Bolden said.