Florence Evadne Deyerle Hardgrove sang her first solo at age 3 in church, shared her love of song with many faiths and spent nearly six decades teaching voice and music lessons to thousands of Long Islanders.
On Sunday, Hardgrove sang that first song one last time and died, surrounded by family and loved ones in Rockville Centre. She was 95.
The former opera singer was a teacher, a student, a mother and a friend whose deep faith moved her through every part of life and gave her the compassion to always lend an ear, to host those in need and to teach fully.
“She’s a remarkable person,” daughter Faith Skelos of Rockville Centre said. “She just gave so much to people. I never felt like an only child. I felt like I had 80 brothers and sisters. She cared about [her students]. She listened to them. There’s not many people like her in this world.”
Hardgrove was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1921. Her father was a bishop in the Methodist church and the family moved from parish to parish, but Hardgrove considered her youthful home to be along the Rappahannock River in Urbanna, Virginia.
Her love of music blossomed in the church and she studied music at what was then Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg. After graduation she worked nights seven days a week inspecting screws and bolts for an aircraft manufacturer, and spent her days singing, Skelos said.
At one point she was a dental assistant, but song always captivated her and she followed that path, traveling with opera companies out of Baltimore and Chicago. She also joined the Estelle Liebling Singers and traveled the country performing with symphonies, her family said.
During that time, which included a show at St. Agnes Church in Rockville Centre, she performed with famed soprano Beverly Sills. A 1948 article in the Terra Haute (Indiana) Tribune called the then-Florence Deyerle a dramatic soprano. The group also performed on radio and television programs.
In 1947, she married Rockville Centre resident Wallace John Hardgrove Jr., and began performing at Sunrise Village in Bellmore and with a number of theater organizations. She was also cantor at the former Temple Emanuel in Lynbrook, and choir director at Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Seaford.
That work led her to open the Hardgrove School of Music, based in her home in Bellmore and then later in Seaford. She taught voice and piano lessons to all ages and held recitals twice a year. At the school’s peak, she taught about 100 students a week.
“She had a faith as beautiful as her voice,” friend and former music student Loretta Curcio of North Merrick said. “You truly felt inspired and happy to be around her.”
For a brief time in the late 1970s Hardgrove hosted refugees from Laos. Her husband died in 1977.
In 2004 she was given the Town of Hempstead’s Women’s History Month Pathfinder Award in Arts and Entertainment.
She moved to Rockville Centre in 2007 and served in the choir at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. She also led weekly singalongs at the Leonard S. Sandel Senior Center. Her last lesson was May 5, one month before her death, said granddaughter Alexis Skelos.
“That’s what she credited with keeping her alive,” her granddaughter said. “Her secret to life was working and doing what she loved.”
Along the way, she also bowled, played tennis, swam and volunteered at soup kitchens.
Besides her daughter and granddaughter, she is survived by another granddaughter. Hardgrove was predeceased by three siblings.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 18 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Rockville Centre.
Donations can be made in her name to St. Mark’s, 200 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre, NY 11570; Friends of Senior Services Inc. (FOSSI) care of the Sandel Senior Center, 50 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre, NY 11570; or the We Care Fund, care of Nassau County Bar Association, 15th and West streets, Mineola, NY 11501.