PITTSBURG -- No one can say that Ann Custer doesn't stick with something.

After 50 years of providing music for the Community Presbyterian Church, Custer has unplugged her organ, in a matter of speaking.

The friendly Pittsburg resident said it was just time. Well, that, and the desire to stay close to home because of her husband's health issues. "It was time for me to slow down."

She and husband Reed moved from Oregon to Pittsburg in 1961, and within a few months Custer found herself very involved in the church choir. In 1980, she officially became the music director.

Of course, she didn't just step into that role without some knowledge. One of her first teaching jobs out of college involved music.

Scheduled to instruct home economics, the principal asked her to teach an additional class -- music or physical ed.

"I can't walk across the floor without lines," she said, followed by her infectious laugh. "So, music it was."

At Community Presbyterian, she simply began to help by playing organ.

"I never dreamed it would lead to this."

"This" would be to lead, organize, plan, rehearse and learn to direct a choir of anywhere from 15 to 25 people.

To further hone her skills, Custer said she's taken numerous classes and workshops to "refine my skills along the way." In her role, Custer picked out music, kept the music library up to date, checked in with choir members and talked with the minister about his sermons -- all in the name of unifying the music and message.

At one point, Custer helped lead a hand-bell choir and a children's choir.

During those 50 years, Custer has forged lifelong relationships and dear friendships.

"She's humble, loving and committed to everything she has ever been involved with," said Sue Ferguson, who's known Custer for years. "She's someone who can always be counted on in her wide circle of friends." Said Letha Arms: "Ann is the heart of our church. Her kindness for everyone shows in everything she does." When reflecting on the choir, she said "(They had) incredible dedication ... especially considering they're all volunteers. My singers have been so supportive; we always had a great time.

"The music has brought me a lot of pleasure. I was blessed with really good voices and music readers. In the end, it's made for a good worship service and so worthwhile."

Custer has a litany of memories, including the installation of the pipe organ in 1979 ("It was one of the first in East County"); concerts given for the community; and "the opportunity to sing and study for an entire day with Sir John Rutter, a noted British composer/conductor."

The Custers came to Pittsburg for teaching jobs. Reed ended up at Pittsburg High School for 30 years, and several years at Los Medanos College.

Custer substituted at the high school for awhile before landing a job at a co-op nursery school. "It was perfect. I (think) I had the most input in changing lives (there.)"

Later, Custer touched even more young lives when she became a kindergarten teacher, partnering with friend Evelyn Arms, at Los Medanos Elementary for 13 years.

"We never really intended to stay (in Pittsburg). It was a steppingstone to figure out where we really wanted to live.

"But Pittsburg is a unique city to work in. We both liked the kids we worked with, we liked the people here, our church was an important factor and we had made some friends."

She said it just felt comfortable and was a good fit for their two daughters.

Although she's stepping down as director, Custer will continue to sing in the church choir. "I can't totally give it up.

"I can't imagine life with music. Music touches your soul. It goes so deep within and takes you so many places."

Contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net.

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