Seasoned Songbird

A petite woman with peach-colored skin and pearly white hair closes her eyes as she practices singing Christmas carols. Her passion for performing shines bright in her eyes while the ENCORE Singers rehearse in Room 3400 of the Pierce College music building.

Eileen Guliasi, 81, is back in school for the first time since she graduated Theodore Roosevelt High School in Chicago more than 60 years ago.

PRACTICE – Eileen Guliasi practicing Christmas carols with the ENCORE Singers. Photo by: Gabriela Gomez

Following her husband’s death in 1994 after battling lung cancer, Guliasi started thinking about the plans they had made to retire together and her long-forgotten dreams of becoming a singer. Guliasi decided to return to school when she got involved with OASIS, an older adult program, which has partnered with the Pierce College ENCORE Program since 2000.

ENCORE is a Pierce College education program designed to offer adults who are at least 60 years old courses that address the educational needs and interests of mature adults. These classes focus on topics that promote independence, advocacy, community engagement, self-maintenance and personal growth.

Guliasi is currently enrolled in three singing classes, the ENCORE Singers, the Songbirds and the Cabaret Singers. To complete her calendar schedule, she instructs fitness classes. The variety of classes available through ENCORE include yoga, art, music, dancing and theater. Many students in the program are retired teachers, and some of them were also Pierce students in their younger years.

Guliasi and her husband Fred were married in 1949 by a Justice of the Peace. She was a secretary at the American Medical Association (AMA) and her husband Fred was a salesman.

When each of their three sons was born, she quit working to stay home and raise them. When the children got a little older, she went back to work, but only in the evening when her husband was home to care for the children.

“Fred and I knew each other almost two years before we got married,” says Guliasi.

In 1966, the Guliasis and their three sons, Les, Gary, and Daniel, piled into their 1962 Ford to move to Los Angeles.

“I joined the Los Angeles Unified School District to become the secretary to the vice principals at Fairfax High School,” says Guliasi. “Surprising isn’t it?”

California brought new opportunities, and new life, with the birth of another son, Kenneth.

“I was back to being a mommy, raising my little guy,” says Guliasi.

She joined the PTA and volunteered at his school. When Kenneth began going to school full time, Guliasi returned to work as an executive secretary at the AMA, until she retired in 1994 to assist her husband.

The life of a dedicated wife and mother didn’t leave much time for Guliasi to pursue personal interests. She began to wonder what it would be like to sing again. But she wasn’t quite sure how to get involved or if she was even ready to approach the academic world.

“Life changes,” says Guliasi.

Her sons had graduated from college and successfully entered the working world. That’s when Guliasi became a family of one. None of her sons live in Southern California. They have to travel to see each other, which they manage to do, but they never get to spend enough time together. Guliasi’s oldest son Les is in Berkeley, Gary in Nipomo, Daniel in San Rafael, and her youngest Ken is in La Mesa.

“ Last year, I had a big birthday party and all four of my sons were there, including my daughters-in-law and my seven grandchildren,” says Guliasi.

It was the best birthday party ever because her whole family was together, but the one person she wished that she had by her side was Fred.

ATTENTIVE – Eileen Guliasi and the ENCORE Singers listen to professor Tortell’s direction. Photo by: Gabriela Gomez

Then, after six years without her husband, Guliasi gathered the courage to go back to school.

“ It’s a good experience to be 60 or 65 years old and come back to the school where you used to be a student when you were younger,” says Guliasi about the ENCORE students.

She also helps Ida Blaine, the ENCORE director, at the Pierce monthly volunteer meeting. Guliasi has become a pillar in the program.

“She is a fantastic, hard and a strong working woman,” says Blaine. “I really appreciated her help when she’s in the office. She gives 100 percent all the time.”

The ENCORE volunteers assist the instructors in the classrooms. They usher for Art Department performances, the Los Angeles Pierce Symphonic Winds, the ENCORE Singers, and the dance programs.

“My life and time are overflowing with my duties as the ENCORE volunteer coordinator,” says Guliasi.

They also staff the ENCORE student art exhibits and volunteer at the President’s Honor List Reception. Guliasi also volunteers for the Community Outreach.

“We reach out to the community to help in any way we can,” says Guliasi.

This includes speaking at an organization, helping at community events such as health fairs, and delivering ENCORE catalogs in the neighborhood.

“ Give the ENCORE office a call,” says Guliasi. “Ida Blaine and her assistant Dominique Sedeno are most cooperative and the most pleasant people to work with.”

As volunteer coordinator, Guliasi helps students register for classes, answers questions, and she gives advise to the students.

Molly Novak, an ENCORE volunteer, is grateful for all that Pierce College has to offer.

“I became a member of ENCORE when it was first established on the Pierce College campus in 2000,” says Novak. “Certainly, without ENCORE, there would be a huge void in my life.”

The ENCORE non-credit classes meet for two hours a week for 15 weeks during the fall and spring semesters. In winter and summer semesters the program meets for only five weeks.

Surrounded by her peers, Guliasi and the other students take direction from music professor Cathryn Tortell, who is sits behind a piano. It took more than half a century, but Guliasi is fulfilling her dreams of being a singer and playing the piano.

It’s her encore performance.