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Mary Wigent Hornberger

Musician, teacher, conductor, church organist, choral director

Mary Wigent Hornberger, a longtime Pilgrim Place resident, died March 8 at the age of 96.

Mary was born in Chicago on December 26, 1923. She attended schools in Chicago before enrolling at Northwestern University School of Music in Evanston, Illinois, where she majored in flute and organ.

She was an organist for churches in Edison Park and Wilmette, both suburbs of Chicago, while working on her bachelor’s degree in music.

Having decided to focus on the flute, she then worked toward a master’s degree with a flute performance major. Her first position after graduation was teaching flute, theory and organ at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. She was also principal flutist for the Corpus Christi Symphony.

It was during this time that she made the decision to study conducting, with an emphasis on church music. She then enrolled in the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and studied organ with Claire Coci.

In 1952 she accepted her first full-time church position at the First Methodist Church of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. She continued orchestra work, playing flute with the Ft. Wayne Philharmonic. The summer of 1953 was spent studying organ with Marcel Dupre and Rolande Falcinelli at the American School of Fine Arts in Fontainebleau, France.

Upon returning to the US, she served as organist and director of choirs at the Garden City Community Church on Long Island, New York. She also directed the Stony Brook Community Chorus. 

She married Gustav Hornberger in 1957. In 1964 the Hornbergers moved to Denver, where she directed the music program at First Plymouth Congregational Church.

In 1970 the family moved to La Jolla, where she taught at The Bishop’s School. While in California she was also organist and director of music at the Kensington Community Church in San Diego and at St. James by the Sea, in La Jolla.

In 1972 she founded a youth chorale that sang throughout California and Arizona and toured the east and west coasts of the US, as well as Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

After moving to the Los Angeles area, she served as organist and director of choirs at the Cathedral Congregation of St. Paul’s Trinity Episcopal Church in Orange, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pomona and St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Claremont.

She had been a resident of Pilgrim Place since 1997. She often expressed gratitude to the Pilgrim Place community for its excellent, intentional care.

She was predeceased by her husband Gustav and niece, Ada Dowdy.

She is survived by her nieces Pam Lassell (husband Don Lassell), Claudia Wigent (husband Stafford Horne) and Carol Burke; and by nephew Donald Wigent (wife Becky Wigent).

Memorial contributions may be made to the Residents’ Health and Support Fund of Pilgrim Place at pilgrimplace.org/giving.

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