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Arts & Entertainment

Choral Director Frank Pooler Passes

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 5

By Kirt Ramirez

Frank Mairich Pooler, a long-time Cal State Long Beach choral director whose students included famed artists Richard and Karen Carpenter, died of lung cancer at his Rossmoor home Jan. 19. He was 86.

Born March 29, 1926 in Onalaska, Wisconsin, Pooler grew up with a railroad detective father, hairdresser mother and brother Larry – who referred to Pooler as “Mick.”

Pooler attended St. Olaf College where he fell in love with the famous St. Olaf choir sound.

Upon graduation, he took his first choir job at prominent New Trier High School in Chicago. Among his students was singer/actress Ann-Margret.

After New Trier, Pooler took a job in Albert Lea, Minnesota to become Minister of Music but “wasn’t a happy camper” and packed his bag, his brother said.

The next job was Shimer College in Chicago where Pooler was surrounded by interesting students and faculty.

The brother recalled, “Then came the big call from California. Mick was asked by phone if he would be interested in a job at Long Beach State. It was a bitter cold, freezing week in Illinois. Mick asked “What’s the temperature out there?” “Seventy-eight” he was told. Mick’s reply was “When do I start?”

Pooler formed and led the Department of Choral Music at Cal State Long Beach and taught many students during his time there from 1959 to 1988. Many students went on to successful careers including becoming teachers themselves.

“Mr. Pooler was a tireless dedicated teacher. He demanded the best from himself and from his students. He was not mean – but he was firm. He sought the best from his students, and nurtured their talents, then let them blossom. He was supportive of their individual talents,” said former student and current CSULB music professor Leland Vail.

“During the 1970s, many graduate students in choral conducting flocked to CSULB to study with Mr. Pooler, because of his interest in the new styles of choral music – the avant garde, the use of choralography, programming that included choral music from the past as well as popular and gospel music of the present,” Vail said.

Richard and Karen Carpenter were among Pooler’s students. He mentored them and gave Karen private voice lessons. The lyrics to “Merry Christmas Darling” were written by Pooler when he was in his 20s. Later Richard took the Christmas poem and put it to music and a hit song was created.

Pooler downplayed his own teaching and has said before that “Karen already knew how to sing.” And he added that many do not know it; “She was a fabulous drummer.”

In a 1997 interview, Pooler was asked why the Carpenters were successful. “He (Richard) did great songs. He didn’t do songs that were here today and gone tomorrow. He wrote songs like Cole Porter wrote songs. You can’t hide quality. No matter how hard you push it down, bam, it’s out there.”

Regarding Karen’s singing, Pooler said, “It’s an unforgettable voice once you’ve heard it. It was a God-given voice. It didn’t need any training.”

Pooler is survived by his wife Rhonda Sandberg Pooler, former wife Marie Pooler and two daughters from that first marriage, three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and other family and friends, including his beloved dog Corki.

Asked what degrees Pooler had specifically, Rhonda said, “Frank was never impressed with his own awards and degrees. In fact he always said the more degrees a college professor has, the more it seems they care less about the students and more about themselves.”

People would apply for work with Pooler and showcase their education but he would say, “That’s nice you have all those degrees but can you do anything,” Rhonda said.

Friend Stan DeWitt said, “He loved just talking with normal people about regular, mundane, daily things, and he had a way of making everyone he talked to feel as if they were extraordinary.”

The writer of this article has known Pooler and his wife Rhonda for the past 10 years. Pooler was funny and went against the grain. He was modest and down-to-earth. For years he could be seen driving a 1985 Toyota Celica with faded paint while his previous dog Banjo sat in the passenger seat, then latest dog Corki.

Rather than getting rid of the old car and buying a new one, Pooler had the car freshly painted.

A pre-reporter once was in-between living arrangements and didn’t have a place to stay. Somehow Pooler found out about this and put him up in a motel without being asked by anyone to do so. He did things quietly.

Pooler amassed a political button collection going back to the early 1900s. He was a staunch Republican and loved Barry Goldwater.

About 10 years ago during the major grocery store strike, Pooler saw an elderly lady being hassled by picketers as she entered Albertsons. Pooler escorted her into the store and shopped with her. On his way out, the picketers harassed him and his wife Rhonda.

He eventually went toe-to-toe with a young man and the young man backed down.

“That guy threatened us. Frank said get away from your friends and get over here by yourself and say that,” Rhonda recalled. “That was one of Frank’s finest moments. That was so him, he never backed down.”