WELLINGTON, Kan. – You wouldn’t expect to see Hankie Holefelder at a Rolling Stones concert. She’s a classically trained 78-year-old piano instructor. When the Stones made their way to Wichita in 2007, guess who had on her dancing shoes?
“I love to dance -- any music that gets me on my feet. Whether it’s a line dance or the Macarena, I just love to do that sort of thing. I just had my second knee done, so I’m ready to go,” said Holefelder.
For more than fifty years, Holefelder has taught more than 800 students, including three generations of the Deschaine-Kimball family. Currently she instructs 33 students, sometimes working until almost nine in the evening.
“The one I’m most proud of is an 84-year-old I’m working with. She won’t let me tell you her name.”
Where did Hankie get her name? She explains.
“Mary Diamond was my first teacher -- a young girl who lived across the street. My name is Mary Francis, but she called me little Frankie. Somehow the Frankie got to Hankie.”
Holefelder grew up in Durham, North Carolina with a house full of musicians. Her mother passed away at an early age, but the piano kept her mother nearby.
“My mother died when I was quite young. The piano was a nice way to express myself when I was sad. I could sit down at the piano and feel close with her.”
Her father was an architect and had ties to Duke University, but after graduation she took a chance at the University of Kansas.
Under the direction of Dr. Dean Swarthout, Holefelder blossomed. She met her late-husband Frank, married, and moved to Wellington in 1953.
“I’ve never looked back.”
A big city girl, she wasn’t exactly excited to be living in a small community. Holefelder talks about that decision.
“Much to my chagrin, I must say. I’m not a small town girl.” Luckily she came around. “Now this is my home. All the things I criticized when I first moved here, I love now.”
Most children stop taking piano lessons – a reality that is difficult for an instructor to face.
“Today’s children have so many extracurricular activities. It’s just so hard to lose a student that has real talent.”
Rose Ann Wiedower recalls her son’s lackluster attendance record with Holefelder.
“It took me a while to catch on that Eric’s stomach aches happened right when the piano lessons took place! … Needless to say, Eric can’t play the piano now,” joked Wiedower.
Page 2 of 2 - Luckily for Wellington football, Eric made the change from becoming a concert pianist to punishing quarterbacks. He was a pivotal player in several Crusader playoff runs in the early 2000s. Today he serves Wichita as a medical doctor.
Holefelder’s passion for music is evident to our small community. She’s not afraid to let a parent or student know.
“If you don’t want to learn and be serious about your music, you don’t want to come to Hankie.” Although she admits she’s “mellowed out,” structure is the key to her teaching.
As students quickly learn, Holefelder is more than a teacher.
“You learn to become a psychologist. I’m proud of the fact my students can talk to me about certain things. I had a mother tell me once, ‘I don’t care if you only spend thirty minutes on this lesson, but if you would just talk to my child about life -- your experiences,” said Holefelder.
“I’m very passionate about what I do. I hope my legacy is that I have raised good students -- good student that have gone on to lead successful lives. To think you might have had some small contribution to their wonderful lives, that’s what makes it all worth it.”