110-year-old violin passed to college student for Christmas in Carson City
The violin laid on a mantle, propped up on a fireplace twice, draped in pretty ribbon. The body remained in pristine condition. It sat for years in a case without ever being played. The latch on the box still worked, but no one had used it for quite some time.
From the hands of a mother to a young boy in 1919 to an aspiring college student a century later, now it’s regaining life and it’s being played again as it was meant to be.
“I’m thrilled it’s being played,” Carson City resident Sue Cook, the violin’s longtime former owner, says. “My dad would be thrilled, too, and maybe he knows it’s being played, I don’t know.”
It’s also tying together some unlikely friends through a fairly unique house in a fairly distinctive neighborhood in Carson City.
Cook, the longtime owner of the violin, was in the process of selling her home this summer on Thompson Street, a special house near the top of “C” Hill in Carson City. The violin itself remained upstairs and Cook had no plans for it. She’d known the instrument was unique, and she had many musical and emotional memories of it but had no one nor any place where she could donate it. She certainly wasn’t playing it anymore herself.
The violin is at least 110 years old.
“My father was born in 1909, and when he was 10 years old, his mother gave him this violin and, of course, the violin was with him forever and ever,” she said.
Arthur William Tesmer played the instrument with joy regularly every year at Christmas time, Cook remembered.
“My father would call out, ‘The violin!’ And he could play it pretty well,” she said.
Cook was born in 1941. She never had any siblings, but she took violin lessons starting at 8 in elementary school.
She recounted how the family moved to Phoenix, where they stayed for about 50 years before coming back to Carson City to the house built in 1938 and made of brick.
Tesmer died in 1981 and the violin went to Cook, married by then. She had played it herself for a few years during her childhood, but since she’d developed her own interests while growing up, it wound up on her shelves.
Decades later, Bob and Heather Scheblein were living in Zephyr Cove and attending Carson City’s Hilltop Community Church. They wanted to get away from their snowbound landscapes and began househunting. At summer’s end, their real estate agent summoned them to a rare house that just went on the market on Carson City’s Thompson Street.
Heather, not feeling well that day in late August, said Bob went to take the tour and met with Cook, though the process also was hastened by another offer Cook had received from Boston.
“The house was beautiful, charming, and we didn’t look at the neighborhood,” Heather said.
Bob said he and Heather would end up falling in love with the house on “C” Hill. But something prompted a pause. Cook eventually invited Bob upstairs to ask if he might be interested in taking a dresser inside a closet that she no longer needed. And something else beyond the dresser grabbed his attention.
Bob spotted the violin case, who asked Cook what she might do with it.
“I said, ‘I don’t have a clue,’ ” Cook said. “I opened it up … No strings were broken. He said, “There’s a girl at our church. … Her name is Claire, like the ‘Nutcracker.’ She plays the violin in the church orchestra.’ He said that to me, and I said, ‘The violin is yours. Promise me you’ll have it repaired.”
Bob said he believed it was “meant to be.”
“There’s something about a violin, to me, it cries,” Bob said. “It’s a very personal instrument compared to guitars and drums and all that. And I’d never gone to a church that had a violin as part of the worship music, and I’d told Heather many times that I love the violin and it’s probably because Claire’s so good at it.”
Bob took the violin case to Benson, a University of Nevada, Reno student playing in Hilltop’s worship band for several years with aspirations of entering the medical field.
Benson said she could only stare at Bob at first when he explained the story behind the instrument.
“It really meant so much to me,” she said. “I could tell it had been sitting out for a while. When I tried to tune it, one of the strings snapped. I thought, ‘Wow, I need to take it to get repaired, but I have no idea when I’m going to do this, but I would love to make beautiful music for Jesus.’”
Bob took it to his family friend, Dick McNeely, whom Benson considers an “adopted grandpa” and with whose granddaughter she has grown up close to throughout the years. McNeely became enthusiastic at the thought of helping Benson and immediately made further arrangements to get the violin’s strings repaired, the basic bridgework adjusted and the sound post, tuners and chin rest fixed as needed.
“If something’s going to get done, somebody’s got to start making it happen,” McNeely said. “And so Claire, who is a young premed student that has three minutes of spare time and 14 cents’ worth of spare money isn’t going to be able to deal with her education and messing with this violin isn’t real high on her list. But if Sue is ever going to hear it before the end of the millennium, it’s gotta have it. (Claire) told me where to take it.”
The violin now has been restored to prime condition, and it’s in Benson’s ownership, ready for her to play and she’s already using it in her church home and in her spiritual life.
“It’s not only beautiful, but it’s taking a passion from in here,” Benson said, gesturing to her heart, “and turning it into worship.”
For Cook, giving Benson the violin is a Christmas gift unto itself. She had lost a child and passing it on to someone deserving is worthwhile.
“It sat on the shelf,” she said. “I used it the best I could at this point in my life, but there was nowhere for it to go. When (Bob) said, ‘I know where it could go,’ … l mean, talk about meant to be.”
Benson said she’s attended church all her life but began knowing God when she was about 15. Though she’d already had her own violin that she was already using in church, this one carries more impact for her.
“I bought it last year,” she said. “It’s a new one, but it doesn’t have the history. I love all the history in (Sue’s violin). I love that it comes from Sue. It’s gorgeous.
“I think it’s amazing,” she told Cook about the repairs. “It’s like a part of your family, Sue, that has been with you ever since you were a little girl. I feel so chosen. I love that.”
In all of its history, the violin has changed hands more this season than it ever has in the past century. But this Christmas, its ultimate recipient — a young college student who loves to play the instrument — feels “chosen” to be receiving a piece of history.
“I feel like it’s in good hands,” Cook said.