How Special People Make A Difference

ASHLAND, Ore. - I happened to mention to a friend that I was heading to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Not missing a beat, he insisted, "You've GOT to meet my Aunt Peggie."

Now there are friend's aunts you would - yawn - agree to call and others you should avoid like the plague.

But Peggie Greuling definitely belongs in the first category. And she may only be typical of the folks drawn to this southern Oregon town, famed for its cultural climate.

The brisk-striding, silver-haired, 80-something Greuling launches, unbidden, into the tale of how she and her husband, Herb Greuling, picked Ashland.

"Herb was retiring from the U.S. Air Force Band in 1969 and we were looking for a place to live," she says. "We wanted a college town, one that had four seasons, but was mild, the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons."

The Greulings flew from Florida to Portland. They rented a car and drove thousands of miles. Nothing said "home."

When they returned with the rental car, the savvy clerk said, "You should have tried Ashland."

Peggie wrote Ashland for information and received eight replies. The townsfolk even offered Herb a job, working in a music store.

How could they resist? The Greulings packed up and headed West. They bought a ranch-style house perched above a meandering stream.

A retired music teacher who plays 11 instruments, Peggie quickly became a community fixture. If she wasn't playing with the symphony, she was raising vegetables in her "garden of eating."

When personal computers became available, she bought a Mac. She uses it to write and score music.

Behaving as if the day had 48 hours, Peggie also tends their dogs, four golden retrievers.

Peggie rescued one she calls Princess from a puppy mill. The dog had borne litter after litter, but never had human contact, not even a name. It seemed as if the skittish dog would never adjust.

But, little by little, Peggie trained Princess. Now she is the sweetest, best-behaved pet imaginable. Peggie takes her to nursing homes for pet therapy.

"Little old ladies love her," explains Peggie, who doesn't think of herself as an LOL.

Peggie's latest project involves 6-year-olds. Asked a year ago to fiddle during a centennial observance at nearby Talent Elementary School, Peggie discovered the cash-strapped rural school had no music or art instruction.

"If you buy the violins, I'll teach them to play," said Peggie, who learned the Suzuki method in Japan. The first-grade teacher, Pat Findley, accepted the offer. But money for the violins was difficult to find. Most parents couldn't afford it.

Finally, with school about to open last September, Peggie bought the violins, charging $1,000 worth of the one-quarter-sized instruments on her Visa card. Then she raised the cash, speaking at service-club meetings.

Next fall, she plans to start another first grade and continue to teach the second-graders.

"I can't understand why people don't make music more a part of their lives," says Peggie. "In Germany where Herb was stationed, every time you went on a picnic you packed your violin. There ought to be music."

And, in Ashland, thanks to people like Peggie, there often is. And it's beautiful.

Jean Godden's column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Local News section of The Times. Her phone is 464-8300.