Sunrise, August 15, 1931 — Sunset, March 6, 2023
Velma Gene Warder was born on August 15, 1931, in Minneapolis, the oldest of three children born to Velma Austin and William Wesley Williams. She was the wife of William Warder, sharing 71 years of marriage, mother of three, grandmother of one, and great-grandmother of six.
She taught for 25 years in the Minneapolis Public Schools and was a freelance writer, publishing hundreds of articles in music and religious publications.
Velma (Genie) grew up in North Minneapolis, among friends in her close-knit community and would fondly recall those days when her life centered around church activities at Zion Baptist Church (then located on Lyndale Ave. N.) and the Friendship Club at the Phyllis Wheatley House. She attended Franklin Junior High School, where she played basketball, and North High school where she participated in orchestra and was inducted into the National Honor Society. She graduated from North High in 1949.
In 1948, Velma met William Warder, who was recently discharged from the U.S. Army, and they dated for three years. They were married on a snowy Thanksgiving Day in 1951. They lived in South Minneapolis for 64 years, raising three children.
Family meant everything to Velma. She loved being around her family and would do anything for her family. She was kind, giving and thoughtful. She never hesitated to send a note of thanks or encouragement to anyone who needed a lift. She loved playing board games and was a fierce Scrabble player. Most of all, she loved God, and put her faith in Jesus Christ.
In 1951, Velma graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism and a minor in art. In the late 60’s she returned to the University and received a B.S. in education. She began her teaching career in 1968, as a first-grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary School.
However, Velma is best remembered as an extraordinary musician. She studied organ, piano and music theory at the MacPhail School of Music. She began playing the piano at Zion as a teenager, then at Sabathani Baptist Church. She took her piano skills everywhere, delighting her students when she played in the classroom.
She was a powerhouse on the organ and took command of 2- and 3-manual pipe organs, working the foot pedals like she was tap dancing. She played everything from Bach, Handel, Chopin and Brahms to Joplin, gospel, spirituals, anthems, Broadway tunes, and even pop. She accompanied numerous vocalists, including her husband William and daughter Cheryl, and performed many recitals of traditional organ literature.
She was a trailblazer in featuring organ music by African-American composers. She also conducted workshops for national conferences in music and Christian education. She was also an active member of the Black Music Educators of the Twin Cities, the Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians, and the American Guild of Organists. She served 23 years as organist at the former Temple Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and retired in 2010 after 26 years as organist at River Hills UMC in Burnsville.
Velma passed away on March 6, 2023, at the age of 91. She was preceded in death by her parents William and Velma Williams, her sister Rauby Brown, and great-grandson Cameron Reeves. She is survived by her husband William; brother, Wallace Williams (Pam); son, Paul Warder (Pam); daughters, Cheryl Warder Reeves and Julie Warder; grandson Kellen Reeves (Michelle); great-grandsons Quentin, Zavier, Zaire Reeves, David and Christopher Johnson; and a host of other family members who will cherish memories of Velma.
There will be a celebration of life service at River Hills United Methodist Church in Burnsville on Friday, March 17, at 11 am. Public viewing will be from 10 – 11 am at the church. Burial will follow the service at Fort Snelling.
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