Noblesville’s Phyllis Davis loved playing her music

Phyllis Davis was a tradition at the Hamilton County 4-H Fair Queen Pageant and Fashion Revue for more than 50 years.

We could always count on seeing her smiling face as she was playing the piano.

The Noblesville woman never used any sheet music but played the songs by heart.

“I’ve loved it, and the girls’ evening dresses are so beautiful,” a smiling Phyllis Davis once told me on a piano break. “I enjoy playing,” she said.

Sadly, I received a telephone call on Monday morning from her son, Sid Davis, who lives next door.

His mother had passed quietly at 5 a.m. He was calling folks to let them know.

He invited me to share with the Noblesville community the details of his mom’s Celebration of Life, planned for 1 p.m. Friday at Eagle Creek Friends Church in Eagletown, with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. Burial will be private.

Yes, Phyllis Davis loved her music and played the piano every day.

She would tell folks that she played ever since she was 3 years old.

So how many years ago was that? She would never divulge her age anytime to anyone.

But her son said it was time to share her age.

Phyllis Davis, who enjoyed a well-lived life, lived to be an impressive 99 years old.

She was born at home near Jolietville on Oct. 7, 1922, to Clarence and Mary (Stuart) Davis. She grew up on a farm. The house is still there.

Phyllis Davis graduated in 1941 from Westfield High School, where she was class valedictorian, acted in school plays and performed in the school band, “I think clarinet,” Sid Davis said.

She grew up attending Eagle Creek Friends Church and played piano there up until about three years ago.

Phyllis always had a sense of humor. She and her sister, Ramona, used to travel around the state doing a comedy act, and even one family flew her to Arizona to do her show. Ramona did the comedy, playing a “bag lady,” and mom played the little organ. The Sadie Hawkins was the name of the show. M mom’s sister was the bag lady.

Phyllis kept the Davis name all of her life, marrying (an unrelated) Robert S. Davis on Oct. 25, 1947, at age 25, first settling on Hazel Dell Road, then moving to his farm in Noblesville, where she lived for the rest of her life.

Sid Davis was their only child. “My great uncle Les Davis built this house in 1914. And when he died in 1934, my dad’s dad (Lou Davis) and Mary (Stuart) Davis bought the farm, and they moved here in 1934.”

“She had the enjoyment of music. As a kid, I always heard her playing the piano … and the marimba, the saxophone, the clarinet and the harp, but not as much as the piano,” for which she also taught lessons.

She played music at church, weddings, funerals and civic functions. She dragged the harp everywhere.

People around Noblesville who weren’t involved in the 4-H program might also remember Phyllis as secretary for Noblesville Township Trustee Reno Taylor. Or from her two four-year terms as Hamilton County treasurer, 1975-82. Or maybe serving 23 years as manager of the former Noblesville Golf and Batting Center that her son owned on Willowview Road until 2016. People would often stop by just to see Phyllis at the Center, located within a couple of minutes from her house. She waited on customers at the counter and served food. “She made a lot of friends there,” her son said. “She enjoyed all of the families and the little kids. She loved to be around people.”

In celebration of Phyllis’ birthday, each October, Sid would throw a fall bonfire party at his log cabin and invite anybody who wanted to stop in from late afternoon until after midnight. Family and friends would enjoy beef stew from Lutz’s Steak House and pork chops hot off the grill. Phyllis would make side dishes, like baked beans or potato salad.

When Sid Davis was young, he said they ate at home most of the time. She was a good cook, said the 1972 Noblesville High School graduate.

Sid Davis said, “People really liked her, what a kind and generous person she was, and she was a caring person toward everybody she met. She put an impression on people that she met with her kindness and generosity and caring.”

He said everywhere she went, she tried to help people who needed help, talk to people if people needed somebody to talk to,” he said.

Every year for more than 50 consecutive years, taking over the piano for her predecessor in 1966, Phyllis Davis played songs from memory on the piano during the 4-H Fair Queen Pageant and during the 4-H Fair’s Fashion Revue.

Before the Pageant and Fashion Revue took place in the 4-H Exhibition Center, I remember when Phyllis played the piano, which would roll into the old Show Arena, where the pageant took place for many years when I was a young journalist at The Noblesville Ledger.

In July 2014, according to The Times’ archives, Phyllis Davis was honored at a celebration with the gift of a wristwatch, for her many years of providing piano music. That same year, at the Indiana State Fair, “she was glad when she got the 100-year-old (Hoosier Homestead) farm award.” He said. “She was really proud of that, that the farm had been in our family for 100 years,” said Sid Davis who went with his mom to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to receive the award.

In July 2017, Phyllis almost didn’t have the opportunity to play when the pageant committee made a decision to use recorded music instead of having Phyllis play the piano. But then the committee, at the last minute, decided to keep the tradition alive and to invite her to play one song for the Queen Pageant.

She ended up playing quite a few songs, during the scholarship and nine- and 10-year 4-H’er recognition and when the Queen contest judges were out of the room making their decision.

I wasn’t the only one that year who wanted to see her piano traditframonion continue.

At that 4-H Queen Pageant, Kathy Kreag Williams and County Commissioner Steve Dillinger escorted Phyllis Davis into the building along with Sid Davis. Both, along with Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt, passed on an invitation to the Noblesville Mayor’s Ball so they could be at the Queen pageant, and to see Phyllis play the piano.

They were all glad to see that everything worked out. And so was the audience.

Phyllis played her old favorites during that night: “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Careless,” “My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Moon River,” “Tennessee Waltz” and other old favorites.”

She told me she wouldn’t have been upset if she didn’t get to play anymore at the event. She knew that times change. “They’re doing it differently. Whatever they want to do is OK with me,” she said.

In July 2018, she played the piano again for the Queen Pageant. A few days later during the Fair, she was presented the piano to enjoy at home. She wrote a Letter to the Editor published in The Times:

Dear Editor, A big thank you for the lovely gift of the piano I played for about 70 years for the Queen Contest. I really liked the piano and the beautiful girls and their apparel. Also, about three years ago, the 4-H Council awarded me a beautiful wristwatch, which I am enjoying. Thank you all very much and may God bless you all. -Phyllis E. Davis, Noblesville.

And God bless you, Phyllis Davis, for bringing joy to so many others in this wonderful life. Rest in peace.

-Contact Betsy Reason at @betsy@thetimes247 com. Read Phyllis Davis’ obituary on Page 2 in today’s edition of The Times. The photo in the obituary was among 10 color photos, originally created by Betsy’s daughter, Addison McMillan, for her 4-H Photography exhibit, for which she earned a blue ribbon with honors.