After Hours: ‘Pahdners’ at the piano

Bill Fickling III remembers the fun of playing with his brother and sisters under his mother’s piano when the late Neva Langley Fickling took a hiatus from professional performances to raise four children with her husband, Bill Fickling Jr. On May 14, the Fickling family was in the audience at Wesleyan College’s new Pierce Chapel to attend the dedication of Neva’s Bosendorfer semi-concert grand piano, donated by Fickling through her estate. When Neva decided she was ready to revive her professional career, she approached her friend, Edward Eikner, professor of music and piano at Wesleyan. She considered Eikner her mentor in augmenting and refining the talent for which she had won numerous awards prior to her marriage.

So close was the bond between mentor and protege, Eikner, a Texas native, referred to Fickling as his “pahdner.” In her welcoming comments, Wesleyan President Ruth Knox recounted their travels throughout the United States and Europe, entertaining audiences with acclaimed piano duets. Eikner, now professor emeritus of music at Wesleyan, was the featured artist for the dedication ceremony, playing some of his friend’s favorite compositions from Mozart, Chopin, Liszt and, most familiar of all, “Toccata” by Khachaturian, which won Fickling the talent competition when she claimed the crown in the 1953 Miss America pageant. Her close friends knew Fickling’s affinity for old Southern folk songs and were invited to sing along when Eikner played a medley of “Six Songs of the South.” A subdued and reverent crowd, including Julia and Carter Baldwin and Mary Amerson Burt, hummed softly to familiar standards including “Suwannee River” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”


On the same evening at Gallery West in downtown Macon, owners Kirsten West, Kirk West and John Griffin hosted a live auction benefit for venerable guitarist and vocalist Gregg Brooks and his wife, Lisa, to help cover the ongoing expenses of his battle to recover from a life-altering illness. Griffin is the proverbial Renaissance man, a professed promoter of all things related to Macon music. But that is not all this busy retiree does. If he knows a friend who is in trouble or needs a hand up, he gets the wheels rolling and the word spread to his many acquaintances to rally round and raise money or just show up for support.

On that Thursday night at Gallery West, Griffin served as emcee for an auction of events and items related to rock and blues music. Assisted by Beth Cain and Patty Mimbs, he convinced the crowd it could not live without the Peavey acoustic guitar such as the one played by none other than Keith Urban; framed photographs of icons in the music industry from Gallery West; box seat tickets for a Kentucky Headhunters concert; or the Caroline Aiken CD “Broken Wings Heal.” Sandy Gorman, one of Brooks’ fans, perused the auction items, ready to purchase something, anything that might provide more funding to heal her friend’s “broken wing.”

Another fundraiser and auction will be held for Brooks at the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House Museum on June 7. Contact the museum for more information.


On May 15, the farmers market opened for the season in Fort Valley at the restored railroad depot. Fort Valley has been a National Main Street City since 1991 and was named a National City of Excellence in 2003.

The recently opened market is sponsored by the Main Street initiative under the auspices of the Downtown Development Authority. Kathie Lambert, director of the development authority and Fort Valley Main Street, wears several hats, evidenced by the diversity of the vendors on hand for the market opening. One of Lambert’s most knowledgeable gardeners, Don Rouse, or Farmer Don, brought colorful, healthy vegetables right out of his garden. In his booth, he also had framed wooden labels from old vegetable crates, a thing of the past since vegetables are now shipped in cardboard boxes or plastic containers.


Lambert’s marketing strategy attracted the new chef for Lane Southern Orchards, Hoyt Williams, who prepared delicate strawberry crepes, which rivaled any we have tasted from the finest French chefs. Muriel and Willie Nelson, owners of Muriel’s Bakery in Lithonia, had trays laden with free cupcakes to tempt potential buyers to purchase her several variations of the popular pound cake. Greenhouses and growers brought crape myrtles, roses and bedding plants just in time for the planting season. This market in the old depot is a linchpin in the downtown revitalization of Fort Valley. Keep it on your calendar for the summer months or go to the Fort Valley Main Street web site for special events.

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or