Author: Zuniga, Nancy

This coming Sunday, I'm looking forward to a visit with one of the greatest people I've ever been privileged to know. Flossie Lewis was my English teacher during my sophomore year at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. As the classic nerd, I wasn't a happy kid in high school, but Mrs. Lewis' class was the one bright spot in my otherwise gloomy school days. A gifted writer, Mrs. Lewis encouraged her students to stretch the boundaries of their imaginations, often through methods as non-traditional as climbing atop her desk to make a point, or lacing her speech with pithy Yiddish aphorisms. This tireless educator was in her seventies when she returned to school to earn a doctorate degree. Whatever pleasure or inspiration I've ever had in writing anything, be it a letter, song, or CBA welcome column, I have my old teacher to thank for her acceptance of my sometimes unorthodox means of self-expression. I was especially fortunate in that Mrs. Lewis (or “Flossie”, as she asked me to call her in later years), became a family friend, which made it possible for us to keep in touch through the years. Now in her mid-eighties, Flossie still writes short stories for publication in magazines. She always looks forward with delight to hearing my newest original songs, and, since meeting Henry, she has embraced him as if he had also been one of her students. In a sense, we both continue to be disciples of this remarkable woman. The boundless fountain of inspiration and creativity that is Flossie Lewis has nurtured generations of students and enriched countless lives.

So why am I talking about Flossie Lewis in a bluegrass welcome column? Flossie was and continues to be my mentor, someone who believed in and encouraged me even when others were less than enthused with my endeavors. I've witnessed this mentoring spirit numerous times since joining the bluegrass community. Some folks have natural talent and intuition and seem to require little direction, but there are so many more who might have become discouraged after their first feeble attempts at playing an instrument or singing a song, were it not for someone who gave of their time and showed an interest in that individual's progress and potential. So often, someone within our bluegrass family will take a newcomer aside and teach him or her a guitar lick, a breathing technique, a more comfortable way to bow the fiddle, or a pointer on jam etiquette. Those persons may just think that they are passing along a bit of friendly advice, and it may never occur to them that they are, in fact, mentors. Nonetheless, they are imparting their wisdom based on years of experience and observation, and in doing so, they may be setting their protegé on their way to many years of enjoyable playing by helping them to develop good habits and by nipping bad ones in the bud. Sometimes mentoring takes a more formal and intensive approach, as in music camp or festival workshops. Who has mentored you? Who have you mentored?

When Flossie earned her doctorate degree, her former students surprised her with a congratulatory party where one person after another stood up to give a testimonial on how their beloved teacher had shaped their life's successes. Rest assured that when you give of your time and attention, your gift may impact the recipient in ways that you can't imagine, and may be passed along to enrich the lives of future generations.

Posted:  9/2/2010

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email