Matt Halonen (T-12)

June 10, 1940 – February 19, 2013

Wayne Matthew Halonen, known locally as “Matt”, made his debut in Sault Sainte Marie on June the 10, 1940, to the relief and delight of his mother and father, Ann Vanni Halonen and Wayne Halonen. He was proudly pure Finnish and “pure Michigan”. His Vanni grandparents both emigrated from Finland to Negaunee where they met, fell in love and married. His Halonen heritage is rooted in the farmlands of Rudyard. Ann and Wayne met in Chicago, and shortly thereafter settled in the Soo. Matt was their only child. He grew up and was confirmed in the congregation of Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Sault Ste. Marie. Matt first became recognized for his musical talent when, as a child, he played the piano and took part in the very first Sault Ste. Marie children’s choir founded by his mother. He attended Lincoln School followed by Sault High School, where he graduated in 1958. While in high school he made his international debut, an oboe concerto with the Sault Symphony in Sault Ontario. His first two years of college were undertaken at LSSU, then a branch of MI Tech U, continuing at the University of Michigan where he graduated from the School of Music, concentrating on the organ, in 1962. He then went on to obtain his Masters in Music from Yale University.

On October 14, 1960, during Matt’s junior year at the U of M, President John F. Kennedy stood at the head of the steps of the Michigan Union and introduced his conception of the Peace Corps. Five years later, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Matthew acted upon President Kennedy’s realized vision and joined the Peace Corps. His 1965 to 1967 tour of duty began in Gültepe, a poor suburb of Istanbul, and concluded in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. As Matthew expressed the surprising transition,

“I was now to go to the Gazi Institute in Ankara. Founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the venerable institution was dedicated to the training of schoolteachers to the end of transforming Turkish society from the roots up – along the lines of Western ideals and culture. Classical music was an especially big deal to Atatürk and Izmet Inönü (his successor as president of the young republic), and they made sure that there would be a serious music department (as well as a symphony hall downtown) in the newly-built capital. Thus it was that one day, without any previous notification, I was summoned to a meeting. “Profesör wants to talk to you.” This was Eduard Zuckmayer, the notable pianist (, who had been the head of the department since its founding. He, together with his friend, the composer Paul Hindemith having exited Nazi Germany under duress, were among those who had contributed to the cultural formation of the new Turkey. (Hindemith would go on to create a new music department at Yale – ( I was a bit awed to find myself teaching Mozart sonatas to these kids – in Turkish.”

Matt taught there with such success that the Institute asked him to permanently join their Faculty of Fine Arts when his Peace Corps stay was complete. Matt did not, however, take that offer, electing instead to return to the United States. Matt remained friends with his Peace Corps colleagues for the next 47 years and they all considered him to be one of the best linguists of the group, most likely due to his ear for music and his knowledge of Finnish, a language in the same linguistic group as Turkish.

For the next 35 years Matthew played and taught on the organ and other keyboard instruments. He taught in Philadelphia, moved to New York, and then moved to California where he taught in Redding and at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz. Matt also worked as a church and synagogue organist and choir director throughout his career. While in California he was a featured musician at the Widor Organ Symphony Series, held at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, sang and performed with the Russian Chorus, and took part in the well-known Haydn Fest International put on in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Internationally, in addition to Canada and Turkey, he performed during the 1991 Weser Concert Tour in Hamelin, Germany, and in 2002 traveled to England and Scotland to perform with the choir of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Menlo Park, California where he was then the organist.

In 2003 Matt retired, returning to the same home of his birth on Fourth Avenue in Sault Ste. Marie. On July 15, 2004, he performed his final formal recital program at the First Presbyterian Church of Sault Ste Marie, helping to raise funds towards their building restoration project. He dedicated that performance to the memory of his mother and father with the desire to honor the community of his youth.

While retired, Matt traveled extensively with his sweetheart and partner of ten years, Penny Field, revisiting Turkey in 2004 where they had formerly shared time together as Peace Corps volunteers; and visiting Spain, Portugal and Italy, Egypt and Israel, Mexico and Colombia. Perhaps his most memorable travel day was midday of August 30, 2009, when Fr. Victoriano Garcia Yealo, Pastor and Organist of the Cathedral de Salamanca, Spain, unlocked the gates of the beautiful Baroque retrochoir and allowed Matthew to wind his way up the narrow twisted stairwell to play the historical and magnificent cathedral organ. As the organ was reserved for only a few special occasions each year, people crowded to the tall railing that enclosed the choir stalls to hear Matthew play.

On February 19, 2013, Matthew passed away at the Brighton home that he shared with Penny. He is survived by eight first cousins and their families. The family invites you to join in the Memorial Gathering for Matthew this Saturday, May 4, at the Hovie Funeral Home, 558 Bingham Avenue. Visitation is at 10 a.m., followed by the 11 a.m. eulogy proceedings, after which there will be a reception gathering with the family until 1:30 p.m. The graveside committal and interment will follow at 2:15 p.m. at the Oaklawn Chapel Gardens, 15264 S. M129.

         –from for May 1, 2013.

Association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Friends of Turkey