Lambton Youth Choir, VPP team up for hospice fundraiser

The VPP's Alex Baerg and Mark Payne sing and play piano accompanied by the Lambton Youth Choir during last year's inaugural Grateful Hearts hospice fundraiser. This year's fundraising concert will take place Sunday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. Handout/The Observer

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A who’s who of performers from Victoria Playhouse Petrolia (VPP) and the Lambton Youth Choir are teaming up on Sunday to present a concert to raise money for St. Joseph’s Hospice while honouring the legacy of a woman whose dedication to the arts inspired numerous local children.

Grateful Hearts 2, the two groups’ second annual fundraiser for the hospice, will take place at the VPP on Oct. 14 beginning at 3 p.m.

Featuring pop songs, traditional country fare, hymns and medleys, the all-ages concert is a tribute to the late Ruth Brown, a former Petrolia kindergarten teacher and one of the original founding directors of the Lambton Youth Choir 25 years ago.

Brown, who died almost two years ago, was an incredibly positive force both in her work with children as well as championing the arts in Lambton County, said her sister Diane Odell, the current director of the Lambton Youth Choir.

“She was everybody’s kindergarten teacher,” Odell said. “When she finally retired from teaching in 1994, we decided that within the various communities there was a need for a children’s choir outside of school. So we established the Lambton Youth Choir, thinking that it was a two-year commitment … it lasted much longer than that, obviously.”

Brown also had a longstanding involvement with VPP, Odell said.

“As far as the theatre, Ruth and I had billeted performers for such a long time, there was a real bond we had with the VPP and all their performers,” she said.
“They became family to so many of us,” added VPP program co-ordinator Callandra Dendias, who will be singing Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors at Sunday’s show. “And they used to come and take show photos for us, so all the performers got to know them and love them.”

The idea to have VPP and the Youth Choir combine forces to raise money for the hospice came from a conversation between Odell and VPP co-artistic director David Hogan shortly after Brown’s death.

“My sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about this time two years ago,” Odell said. “She didn’t last very long – she was admitted to the hospital two days after Christmas. And following that she was at the hospice. And that was the first time I had ever had anything to do with the hospice, but I knew everybody who had been there had told me it was such a wonderful place.

“And I have to say, even though Ruth was only there for a week … we found out that it certainly was truly a wonderful place. Once we arrived there, it was evident that it was much, much more than just a place to die,” she continued. “And the day that she died, David Hogan came to the house and asked me ‘could we do something to benefit the hospice?’ And I thought, ‘why not?’”

After raising over $11,600 for the hospice during last year’s concert, VPP and the Lambton Youth Choir hope even more people will attend Sunday’s concert.

“For most of us last year, knowing Diane and Ruth, it was about celebrating Ruth’s impact on the theatre and the community,” Dendias said. “And this year … it’s in that same spirit, being grateful and having such an appreciation of what Diane is doing with the youth choir and what they bring to the community.”

The concert also provides an opportunity for members the Lambton Youth Choir – which includes children from across the county from grades 4 to 12 – to perform with a group of highly-renowned musical theatre professionals, Odell said.

“It’s such a wonderful opportunity for these kids,” she said. “They’ve taken it to a whole new level. And they’ll be performing so many pieces with special meanings, too.”

Tickets for Grateful Hearts 2 are $40 and are available at the VPP box office at Victoria Hall (411 Greenfield St., Petrolia) or online at