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Harley Reifsnyder

Musician, teacher, consummate host

Harley Alvin Reifsnyder, a longtime Pomona College professor, died on February 24, 2013 after a long decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 86.

Mr. Reifsnyder was born on June 19, 1926 to Harold and Jeanette Reifsnyder and raised in Long Beach, California. An exceptional student, both in music and academics, he headed for Pomona College at age16. There, he met a talented violinist named Marilyn. They began doing recitals together and fell in love. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Pomona and then enlisted in the Navy.

After being honorably discharged, Mr. Reifsnyder, an accomplished pianist, headed for Europe and joined Marilyn, who was studying at the Lausanne Conservatory of Music. They were married in Paris in 1948. The couple won 2 international music competitions before Ms. Reifsnyder gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Laurie, in Switzerland in 1949.

The Reifsnyders returned to the United States, opting to settle in Portland, Oregon for its vibrant music scene. While Ms. Reifsnyder served as first violinist in the Portland Symphony, which was then conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Reifsnyder taught high school science and math. At night, he served as a professional accompanist in Portland nightclubs, playing piano behind actor/folksinger Burl Ives for one notable gig.

Mr. Reifsnyder also went back to school, earning a master’s degree in music from the University of Portland. An academic paper he wrote, “The Harmonic Idiom of Gabriel Fauré: Characteristics and Evolution of High Chordal Treatment,” was published by the University of Portland in 1952.

In 1955, the Reifsnyders moved their family, which had grown to include 2 sons, Norman and Glenn, to Claremont. Mr. Reifsnyder pursued a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Redlands and soon undertook 3 jobs that he would have for more than 40 years. He was a chemistry professor at Mt. SAC, he taught piano and organ at Pomona College, and he played the organ at the First Christian Church in Pomona every Sunday. 

Mr. and Ms. Reifsnyder also continued to perform with many classical ensembles as well as with the Claremont Symphony, and their home was always full of music.

“It was wonderful, beautiful,” their daughter Laurie said.

One of Mr. Reifsnyder’s proudest accomplishments was bringing master organ-builder Rudolf Von Beckerath over from Germany in 1972 to build the 3-manual organ in the Thatcher Music Building.

Mr. Reifsnyder was devoted to music but he was far from one-sided. The family spent many years traveling and camping in Mexico. He later traveled internationally.

On weekends, Mr. Reifsnyder, a gourmet cook and wine collector, would throw elaborate dinner parties, inviting fellow musicians and teaching colleagues. “He was very social, bright and funny,” Laurie said.

Mr. Reifsnyder was preceded in death by his ex-wife, Marilyn, and his sons, Norman and Glenn Reifsnyder. He is survived by his daughter, Laurie Reifsnyder, of Nipomo, California and by a granddaughter, Anna. 

In keeping with Mr. Reifsnyder’s wishes, there will be no service. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to a charity of your choice.

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