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With gusto she plays violin and paints to her heart's content

(ran HT edition)

Cecelia Freer of Spring Hill thought it was a disaster when she landed in the hospital two days before the concert. After months of practice and waiting for the opening night performance of the Hernando Orchestra, here she was hooked up to all kinds of heart monitors and feeling horrible.

Her doctor said it was impossible for her to attend; she was suffering from a dangerous heart infection, and he wanted to keep a close eye on her. Cecelia was disgusted. "I'm not the greatest violinist in the world, but this was the orchestra's first performance, and I was determined not to miss it."

So Cecelia made a decision, and once made, there was no one at the hospital who could match her for stubbornness and determination.

"I have to get out of here," she told the hospital staff, and while they were vehemently protesting, she was calling her husband and getting dressed. No amount of threats and arguments were going to change her mind. She told her doctor she was going to the concert and would come right back to the hospital when it was over.

"If I drop dead, just remember I died happy," she told him. "If I don't go, I'll be miserable. My son is flying in from San Diego, and my sister is flying from the East Coast. I have to go," and off she went to play second violin in a performance that won the hearts of Hernando County music lovers that evening in February 1992.

When the concert was over, she kept her promise and returned directly to the hospital and got busy with the business of recovery.

Cecelia doesn't know the meaning of "easy does it," and at 76 she is more determined than ever to ignore the aches and pains of aging while she does everything she really enjoys doing.

She has a tremendous loyalty to the orchestra and worries about the lack of young violinists. "We lost a whole generation of violinists when the high schools did away with school orchestras," she says. Recently, however, she was delighted to hear there are 27 youngsters studying violin at the Suzuki School of Music in Spring Hill. She remembers how thrilled she was when she was a child growing up in Rhode Island and had the opportunity to study the violin.

Cecelia started taking lessons when she was 10. "There was a man who came to the house and gave lessons for 25 cents. My uncle lent me a violin, and before too long I was playing in the school orchestra," she says. "When my father and my uncle had a tiff, and I had to give the violin back, that was the end of my playing. No one saw me for two days, I was so brokenhearted."

Many years later when Cecelia's son was in high school, he brought home a violin. "You told me you played this when you were a little girl," he said. "They did away with the orchestra at our school, and they said I could lend this to you for a week."

Cecelia said she began to practice when there was no one else around. "Boy, I really liked that," she said, "so I answered an ad in the paper and took a few lessons. As I said, I'm not the greatest violinist, but I love playing with the Hernando Orchestra."

Cecelia, who has been married for 53 years, has another talent she has refined over the years. She is a very accomplished artist, and her work adorns the walls of patrons in Europe and in the United States. "My husband and I lived in Paris for four years," Cecelia says. "I often took commissions to paint some of the village scenes, chateaus and palaces in France."

Except for six months of figure drawing at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Cecelia never had formal art training, but she spent long hours observing other artists at work and visiting art museums.

Cecelia is a member of the Spring Hill Art League and she has designed many of the sets used by Stage West, the Spring Hill community theater. Recently, while Cecelia was in the midst of painting a totem pole for the set of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, she had another flare-up of the heart infection she has battled for so long.

Her doctor ordered her into the hospital at once. This time he was wary, and asked, "You're not going to get up and leave the hospital again, are you?"

"He knows me now," Cecelia says. "I told him I left a note on the totem pole and said I'd be right back."

And no one doubted she would be, least of all Cecelia. And sure enough, she was back a few days later and finished the set.

Though her doctor must watch her carefully, and she is obliged to take daily medication for her heart condition, Cecelia goes right on doing the things she loves to do. She's a woman who knows what she wants out of life.