Sing out loud: Salem singer celebrates 67 years in choir


Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Mary A.H. Mumford is flanked by her daughter, Marianna O’Neal, left, and fellow choir member Susan Bunting. Mumford was recently honored for her 67 years singing in the Salem United Methodist Church choir.Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Mary A.H. Mumford is flanked by her daughter, Marianna O’Neal, left, and fellow choir member Susan Bunting. Mumford was recently honored for her 67 years singing in the Salem United Methodist Church choir.

A young newlywed among an aging choir, Mary A. H. Mumford was 18 she when she joined her in-laws’ church choir. Decades later, Mumford was recently honored for 67 years of dedication to the Salem United Methodist Church music program.

“She has been here as long as I can remember,” said fellow choir member Susan Bunting. Even as a child, Bunting recalled, “there was Miss Mary, with her beautiful voice.”

The church surprised the 87-year-old Mumford with a plaque dedication on April 10. This winter, Mumford retired from choir, after 67 years of singing.

“She’s been that voice of Salem for … years, and she’ll never be matched,” Bunting said.

Mumford grinned at the congregation. “Thank you, everybody,” she said.

As a teenager, she started singing at Salem with encouragement from her new mother-in-law and inspiration from her sister.

Asked what she loves about music, Mumford said, “If you’re a singer, you know it’s indescribable, really.”

Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Mary A. H. Mumford hugs choir director Louise Lynch during Sunday's service at Selbyville United Methodist Church.Coastal Point • Shaun M. Lambert: Mary A. H. Mumford hugs choir director Louise Lynch during Sunday's service at Selbyville United Methodist Church.She recognizes her voice as a God-given talent, but credits her voice teacher with honing it. It feels wonderful knowing people appreciate her music, she said, and “You don’t sweat it, unless you don’t know the music.”

Sometimes life’s not perfect, she acknowledged, and you still have to stand straight, smile and sing. (“It’s not all beer and Skittles,” Mumford said.) But “You have to have faith. That’s what kept me going all these years,” said the Selbyville resident. “I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of nice people along the way.”

She’s sung for weddings and funerals, for Vice President Richard Nixon at the 1957 birthday party of U.S. Sen. John G. Townsend Jr. in Selbyville and at Delaware Day at the Seattle World’s Fair (officially, the 1962 Century 21 Exposition).

She also sang in a trio last year at Salem UMC with her daughter, Marianna O’Neal, and grandson, Eli Mumford.

Two of her other children were in the audience for the award, and another granddaughter often sings in choir when home from college.

“It’s been a great way to keep your sanity,” Mary Mumford quipped.

“This woman has been a blessing to our choir, and I can’t thank her enough,” said Louise Lynch, choir director.

Lynch then sat down at the piano and cued up the other 16 adult choir members: “Let’s make Mary proud of us.”