Jewell Cardwell

Pied piper. Influence peddler. Just what the doctor ordered.


Glenda Prisby Bronner is all of that and more.


I caught up, quite literally, with Bronner last week at Akron’s ManorCare Health Services, a skilled nursing and rehab facility, where she was making her rounds.


Hard to believe that the 61-year-old Akron woman was convalescing from hip replacement surgery, for she seemed so much the healer of other patients this day.


The staff says that’s been Bronner’s modus operandi since arriving there earlier this month with her autoharp. She was there for therapy, to learn how to get back on her feet.


Yet it was Bronner, with her gift of music, who managed to get the other patients up — not in the traditional sense, as in on their feet, but certainly feeling hopeful about what’s ahead of them.


As she wheeled herself up and down the hallways, going room to room at the 116-bed facility, Glenda Prisby Bronner’s serenades were always greeted by patients, families and staff with applause and visible approval. Jan Fortnoff, director of medical records at ManorCare, gave two thumbs up to Bronner’s powerful music therapy: “It’s just so soothing when I hear her play. Like an angel.”


Some patients even sang along as Bronner’s selections — gospel, rock, country, show tunes or blues — always seemed to strike a familiar chord.


That was true when the self-taught autoharpist served up Horatio Spafford’s It Is Well with My Soul to the delight of patient Ray Elrod, who was also Bronner’s lunch partner:


“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,


“When sorrows like sea billows roll;


“Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,


“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”


And it was true when she belted out Andrae Crouch’s Soon and Very Soon, which had patient Jeff Davis spontaneously adding his soulful voice:


“Soon and very soon we are going to see the King


“Soon and very soon we are going to see the King


“Hallelujah, hallelujah,


“We’re going to see the King


“No more crying there,


“We are going to see the King.”


Bronner also has made a fan out of therapy assistant Gary Freudeman. To hear her tell it, it’s a mutual admiration society. “Not only is he good at what he does, he also makes a good cup of coffee,” she opined.


Asked why she chose the autoharp, Bronner’s answer was in keeping with her humorous personality. “Because I can’t carry a piano with me,” she shot back.


The autoharp is a small, stringed instrument with a series of chord bars attached to dampers, which mute all of the strings other than those forming the desired chord. It’s been a favorite of bluegrass and folk singers like the Carter Family (Mother Maybelle, and sisters Sara, Helen and June), British singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae, and Janis Joplin, among others.


Bronner is as celebrated in the community as she is at ManorCare. She volunteers in a smorgasbord of arenas. Among her favorites is the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle program during the Christmas holidays. “That’s why I put off my hip replacement surgery until Dec. 28,” she confessed. She plays both the autoharp and the chromaharp, a zither-like instrument, on those occasions. The Salvation Army is convinced that music at the kettles increases the giving spirit.


“I enjoy being a multi-faceted human being,” was how Glenda Prisby Bronner described herself.


“They call her the Harp Lady,” Tula Ralles, ManorCare’s corporate communications director, said in singing Bronner’s praises. “I love her. She’s so willing to visit people who may need that extra lift. All I have to do is point her in their direction.”


“It’s just an effortless labor of love,” Bronner was quick to say. “And it’s a way for them [patients] to take their minds off their troubles.”


As Bronner strummed her autoharp, she talked about the influence music has always had on her life.


“I love music,” she said. “Music was my first class of the day at Ravenna High School. So it was the way I started my day.”


Bronner, who also plays the harmonica and the piano, said music is in her DNA. “My 90-year-old mother, Eddie Mae Prisby, has been the musician at Union Baptist Church in Kent since she was 14,” Bronner said. “And Mom has had two hip replacements, heart valve surgery and a pacemaker.”


So far Bronner has managed to outpace her mother in terms of hip replacement surgeries. This is her third. “I had the left one in 1999,” she said, “the right one in 2008 and the left one refurbished when it wore out Dec. 28.


“What can I say? I lead a very active life. I still have more trees to climb with my grandson!”


Bronner, who has been athletic all of her life, has slowed down considerably, but sees no reason to embrace a sedentary lifestyle.


Too many happy memories to do that. Bronner played sports at Ravenna High School and her two years at Kent State University. “I left the afternoon they started shooting and never went back,” said Bronner, who still describes herself as a “hippie.”


Over the years, Bronner has worked a variety of jobs. “Whatever it took to earn a legal living,” she said, rattling off some of her work history: secretary at United Methodist Church of Bath, sales for Monsanto, nursing assistant. Bronner, who comes in a small package, also taught karate.


She and her husband, Charles, have three children and two grandchildren.


“No matter which way the world turns I’m always up,” she shared her philosophy of life. “You have to be!”


As fate would have it, this was Glenda Prisby Bronner’s last day at ManorCare. “You know insurance will only pay for so much,” she joked. “Then the rest is up to the patient.”


Fortunately, she’s been around that block twice before and knows what’s around the next corner. But her newfound buddies at ManorCare, I expect, are already singing a much different tune. Like the one made famous by Bill Withers:


“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone


“It’s not warm when she’s away


“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone


“And this house just ain’t no home


“Anytime she goes away. Anytime she goes away.”


Not to fret, dear ManorCare family. Glenda Prisby Bronner said she will return from time to time. For them, yes, but also for her.


“I never had a better time getting well!” she said, underscoring that it’s better to give than to receive.


Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or emailed at jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com.