Dr. H. (Harriet) Faith McNitt

LEWISTOWN – Dr. H. (Harriet) Faith McNitt, 93, formerly of Reedsville, and a resident of Valley View Retirement Community, Belleville, died April 8, 2013, at Lewistown Hospital.

Faith, as everyone called her, was known for her stylish presence, captivating smile, flashing eyes and pleasant demeanor. She could be blunt, headstrong and direct. Yet, she was kind and generous to a fault, a devoted and loyal friend, a loving wife, mother and grandmother. She expected excellence from her students, friends and family and challenged all to live up to their potential. But, she demanded no more of anyone than she demanded of herself. In short, her mantra was not “practice makes perfect,” but rather “perfect practice makes perfect.”

A 1988 biographical article in The Sentinel, “Living a life filled with music,” quoted her: “I always did what I wanted to do. Somewhere along the line someone supported me all the way. It was only with the support of a very loving husband that I was and am able to do what I have done and am doing.” Her husband of 52 years, Garver Milliken McNitt, of Reedsville, died in 1998. Theirs was a true love story.

First and foremost, Faith was a teacher. In 1983, she retired as professor emeritus from Lock Haven University, having served as chairman of the music department from 1979 to 1982. She joined the faculty as associate professor in 1973 and was promoted to full professor in 1980.

She taught general music at Lewistown Junior and Senior High schools from 1960 to 1973, where she coordinated the Penn State University Student Teacher Program from 1960 to 1970. She taught General Music, Music Appreciation, Theory and was director of choral music at Lewistown – Granville secondary schools from 1957-1960. She taught vocal and instrumental music, French and English, was band director and cheerleading advisor at Brown Township schools, Reedsville from 1944 to 1949. She started her teaching career at Peters Township schools, Lemasters from 1942 to 1944, and during World War II worked at Leterkenny Army Depot, in Chambersburg.

From 1949 to 1957 she took a hiatus from public schools and taught voice, organ, piano and other instruments to a host of private students at her home in Reedsville.

In addition to teaching, she authored “A Self-Instructional Program for Adult Uncertain Singers” (Pennsylvania State University, 1971) and “Integrating Music Concepts with the Teaching of Basic Skills for Early Childhood” (PMEA News, 1971). As a curriculum consultant to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, she conducted workshops, assisted in the preparation of state educational curriculum guides, and authored two curriculum guides for junior high general music classes. She also conducted clinics and workshops at state conferences for The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. In 1956, she composed music and was musical director for the Mifflin County Historical Society’s Fort Granville Bicentennial pageant, “From These Ashes”. She also composed and performed numerous original preludes for church services and concerts, and wrote several hymns.

Precocious and talented, at age 12 she was the choir accompanist for Milroy Lutheran Church. It was there in 1932, during an interdenominational meeting, she heard a young man, nearly 10 years her elder, deliver a lay message. She told her friends that he was the man she would spend her life with. They laughed. Her path crossed his some 11 years later when duties in Brown Township schools included teaching music once a week at the one-room schoolhouse in Woodland. The teacher at Woodland was Garver. They married in 1945. Sometimes dreams come true.

For nearly 60 years in central Pennsylvania, Faith presented organ concerts and piano recitals, appeared as vocal soloist and accompanied concert artists in recital. She served as a principal or guest organist at churches throughout central and eastern Pennsylvania including: Yeagertown Lutheran, East Kishacoquillas Presbyterian, Reedsville, Lewistown Presbyterian, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Lewistown, Saint John’s United Methodist, Boalsburg, St. Mary’s Episcopal, Wayne, and University Baptist, Brethren Church and St. Andrew’s Episcopal, all ofState College.

She loved to sing and performed with the State College Choral Society. She toured Europe with The Pennsylvania Chorale in 1988. But perhaps the highest honor of her musical life was being invited by the director of Our Lady of Victory Sanctuary Choir, State College, to tour Italy in 1989, despite not being Catholic. The Choir performed for Pope John Paul II during Mass in St. Peters Basilica, surprising him by singing in his native tongue, Polish. He was so moved that during the service he embraced Choir members personally. Among her most treasured possessions, photographs with His Holiness. Roll over Martin Luther.

Dr. McNitt was 1937 valedictorian of Armagh Township High School, Milroy, graduated from Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove Grove in 1941 cum laude with a dual major in music education and voice, received the Sigma Alpha Iota Scholarship Award for Academic Excellence, and was included in “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.” She earned both her Masters of Education, in 1960, and Doctorate of Education, in 1971, from The Pennsylvania State University, with a music education major and music minor, and was elected to the Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society, Life Member. She did post doctoral work at both the Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, and The University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music.

She and her husband also performed in summer workshops in Chautauqua and with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians at Shawnee-on the Delaware. She studied voice with Margaret Kaiser, in Philadelphia, and Alice Nichols, in New York. She continued study post-retirement with Koya Ohmoto, for piano, and Dr. Susan Dickerson, for organ, at Penn State.

For more than six decades she devoted substantial time and energy to social causes and public charities. She was a past-president of the Brown Township School Board, the Armagh-Brown Township School Board, Lewistown Music Study Club, Mifflin – Juniata Community Concert Association and Republican Women of Action. She also served as a director of the Mifflin County Tuberculosis Society and the Mifflin – Juniata Heart Association, was extension chairman for the Pennsylvania Federation of Music Clubs and advisor to Lewistown Junior Music Study Club. She was a member of the Central Intermediate Unit 10 Arts in Education Development Committee, Lock Haven Music Club, Lewistown Music Study Club, and Lewistown Hospital Auxiliary. She was an early director of Penn State University’s fledgling public broadcasting experiment, which is now WPSU. She also served as a director of Presbyterian Homes.

Her professional affiliations included: The Music Educators National Conference, The National Association of Jazz Educators, The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, The Mifflin County Retired Teachers Association, The Association of American College and University Professors, The American Guild of Organists (Vice-Dean) and The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Retired Faculties (Vice President).

She and Garver were members and founding contributors to Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art, past members of the Mifflin County Historical Society, Lewistown Country Club, Cotillion, University Club and actively worked with Meals on Wheels.

She was a member of East Kishacoquillas Presbyterian Church, Reedsville.

Dr. McNitt was born on Oct. 1, 1919, in Danville, to Caroline T. Rowe Harbeson and Thomas C. Harbeson. She is survived by: her son, David Garver McNitt, of Reedsville; daughter, Mary Ellen Davis McNitt, of Thornton and Cliff Island, of Maine; grandson, David Joseph McNitt and his wife, Lesly Weber McNitt, of Washington D.C., and Cliff Island, of Maine; and sister, C. Hope Kier Simpson, of Rosemont.

She was preceded in death by her brother, Robert R. Harbeson, of Centre Hall.

The family will privately inter Dr. McNitt and will hold a memorial service at a later date.

Contributions in memory of Dr. H. Faith McNitt may be made to Lock Haven University, Penn State University or Susquehanna University.