Helen S. Pollak
A professional pianist and educator, Helen S. Pollak moved to South Bend in 1963 when her husband Barth Pollak accepted a faculty position in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Notre Dame. Upon arrival in South Bend, with her B.A. in music from the New Jersey College for Women (now Rutgers University) and her M.A. in education from the University of Chicago, Helen eagerly joined the music teaching community.
Hired by the South Bend Community School Corporation, Helen taught in local elementary schools including Kennedy, Muessel, and Madison. Determined to make sure that every child had the best possible experience with live music, Helen pushed the piano herself from room to room when necessary. In her nearly 30 years teaching in South Bend, she brought music to thousands of children and was named “Teacher of the Year” in 1988.
Her daughter Eleanor remembers her mother’s skill balancing work while being a devoted wife and mother. “My mom would teach music all day in elementary school and then give private lessons from 4 until 6 p.m.,” before feeding the family dinner. “And she never even complained!”
In addition, Helen participated as an adjunct faculty member at Saint Mary’s College and taught music at Temple Beth-El’s Sunday school.
Continuing to perform music herself professionally, Helen played keyboard with the South Bend Symphony. Eleanor says that she still smiles, remembering her mom’s chiming celeste notes at the Morris Civic Auditorium when she hears “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
When she retired, Helen delved into a new artistic challenge by creating pottery to share with family and friends. Eleanor remembers noticing her mother’s incredibly heavy suitcase during a visit: “She had packed only a few basic items, really—a toothbrush, a nightgown. The weight was from all of the pottery she’d managed to cram inside to give as gifts.”
The Helen S. Pollak Fund for Music Education grew from a desire to honor Helen. This designated endowed fund will provide The Music Village with annual support for its programming, complementing Helen’s commitment to music and education.