Story by Portia Choi

A memorial, “Celebration of Love,” was held for Nancy Edwards on March 4 at Bakersfield College (BC) campus.

Colleagues, friends and family revealed a person who was more than a gifted poet and an English professor.  She was a generous friend, a philanthropist and a photographer.  She was an organizer of poetry events.

The programmed part of the memorial was filled with Edwards’ poetry.

Three of Edwards’ poems were sung by John Gerhold, the Performing Arts Department chair at BC.  During the time Edwards was at BC, she and Howard Quilling, a professor of music, collaborated.  Edwards wrote the words and Quilling composed the music.

The leaders of the local poetry community read from a variety of Edwards’ poems.

The Poet Laureate of Kern County, Don Thompson, read an exquisite poem, “A Canto of His Vision.”

Then the director of the Norman Center for the Humanities at BC, Jack Hernandez, read a light-hearted poem of Edward’s experience as a sales girl.

An officer of Writers of Kern, Annis Cassells, read Edward’s poem about love and Mary Magdalene.

One of the promoters of poetry in Kern County, Portia Choi, read a poem that Edward’s wrote about her father’s funeral, “When Father Left.”

Edwards’ colleagues read her poem translated into Spanish.  Rosa Garza, a professor of Social Studies at BC read the Spanish version, “Queridas Madres.”  The English version, “Beloved Mother,” was read by Sheena Bhogal, a professor of English at BC.


After the formal program, during the individual recollections of Edwards, more of her personality came through.

A retired professor, Mita Dhaliwal remembered that “Nancy was a good photographer, it was her hobby.”

Another person who spoke was Ann Finlinson.  Edwards was “young and uncertain about some aspect of her teaching,” she said.  Finlinson then spoke about the BC faculty.  “It is a united academic community to help students. . .to enrich. . .to think and value the creativity that each (student) possessed,” Finlinson said.

A former student, Jorge Guillen, spoke of Edwards as being a “really good person.”  She was important in the development of his art and poetry.

Poets, who had planned National Poetry Month with Edwards, reminisced about her.  The month of April is a national celebration of poetry.

“She had a hunger to share what she wrote.  I liked her vulnerability despite her successes,” said Kevin Shaw.

“Nancy gave credibility to our effort,” said Choi.

“She was right about her writing,” said LisaAnn LoBasso.

One of the former student of Edwards, Nick Belardes, later became her teacher.  Belardes was just 17 when he was a student of Edwards in 1987.  He was surprised to see her in his memoir writing workshop a few years ago.  “She left a great body of work, but she ran out of time,” he said.

A writer, Maria Mercado, said that Edwards remembered the name “Mercado” from the time her husband was a student in 1971.  Maria Mercado learned writing from Edwards

at workshops in recent years.  “I didn’t consider myself as a writer.  I will continue to write, to make her (Edwards) proud,” said Mercado.

Another former student, Kim Vetsch, became friends with Edwards.  “Nancy was a dear friend.  Mischievous.  She had that eye, had humor.  We both had eccentric families,” said Vetsch.  She spoke about Edwards’ mother as an example.

Edwards’ husband, James Mitchell, also remembered Edwards’ mother.  “She was sweet.  Yes, she was a music teacher,” he said.  However, Mitchell said that Nancy Edwards did not sing and did not play a musical instrument.

One of the planners of the service was Tom Greenwood, Professor of Mathematics at BC.  He befriended Edwards through his wife, Ruth, who was a counselor at BC.

Greenwood knew Edwards for 17 years.  He said that Edwards enriched his life by opening his mind up to poetry.  “She was very generous of her time.  She was there for people,” he said.

He remembered the time when he had surgery for his appendix.  “Nancy was the first to visit me, to make sure I was okay.  It meant a lot to me,” he said.

He also recalled Edwards’ 10th wedding anniversary celebration at a local restaurant.  He said that Edwards introduced each of the 75 guests.

“I’m going to miss her.  She left too soon,” said Greenwood.

Editorial note:  She left her writing which can be read and shared.  She continues to inspired others to write.  Here are some poems that Edwards wrote.  There are two poems that were written by her poet friends, inspired by Edwards’ passing.


 Night Time Soliloquy

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Whose voice is this I hear,

Whose vision do I see,

Whose face do I adore,

What love do I feel?


No love lay untouched in the

Harmony of your soul,

In the beauty of your life

The face before me


The perfection of a dream,

The passion of the perfect rose,

What brush lines can be painted,

Which color prism created,


The answer lies within

I celebrate your life

I celebrate your soul

I separate the walking and the dream you are,


This vision is created in perfect time.

I will go to you and everything you are to me,

Everything you are to me.

You form circles of life for me,


No soul is unspoken in the harmony of your life

Each song calls out to speak you name

As if you could deliver us from sorrow

As if you could change the direction of the wind


I speak the words which mean the most,

It is to you I give my soul,

It is to you I pledge my love,

Everything I celebrate belongs to you,


Whose voice I hear even in my sleep,

Whose vision I see even in my dreams,

This face rises before me,

So familiar, yet so distant,


No surface lay untouched,

No sound unspoken in harmony of your life,

Everything that came before you,

It is always for you,

Always you.



Night Blossoms

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Late at night the moon plays shadow games,

Plum blossoms fall past my eyes,

Hear night sparrow sing,


Lavender and pearl sachet

I am in the world of love’s design

If you’re the one, the only one,


Come see blossoms falling past our eyes,

Hear night sparrows sing,

Full moon, full heart,


Curve around our hearts

To you this cup is full

I am your beloved


Love plays shadow games against the sky

Pale blossoms come into view

Late at night, at night


The moon plays shadow games,

Fill the air with mystery

I see your smile calling me,


Round blossom petals,

Round moon,

open night sky,

Sweet plum air,


You come to me in a thousand ways

You fill the air with mystery

Your face fills the sky,

Your eyes float by


The moon’s side

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games,


Sparrows sing an ancient tune,

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games.




A Canto of His Vision

By Nancy Edwards


He came from Porum, Oklahoma

To a vague California city,

Population four hundred and fifty,

Old freckle-faced fellow

Nearly blind, white wisp hair

Straw hat, red tipped cane.

He sits along the curb reminiscing

Remembering deputy sheriff days

And travelling west by pickup truck

He came from Porum Oklahoma filled with dreams.

Told his wife it was time to go

When the brown dust bore no fruit

And the government bore no claim

And the working man bore the cross

And Oklahoma turned to dust

And dust turned faces to ash

Before they hit the graves

And the children and the women wept

And the only water was from tears,

He brought the dust in his boots,

Kicking the accelerator till sparks caught

He came from Oklahoma to a California dream

I never was a wheat man, he says slowly

Just oats and cotton for my pickin’ and plowin’

And I never knew I’d see them grow after Oklahoma

He came from Porum, Oklahoma

Ready to work the land

And found the grapes luscious ripe

And the time right

And added five to the four hundred fifty.

Now he’s 85 and his truck’s

In rusted pieces

His children lost to the big city

But I remember in 19 and 34 like it was yesterday,

My only chance to make it big –

Never was the same again,

Now the folks are heading back he says.

Back to Texas, back to Oklahoma,

Where a man can farm his own.”

His eyes see only shapes now.

But he’s not sorry to see people go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go,

Country boy’s always a country boy

He says at 85, remembering his spirit

Feeling that same desire return.

Remembering what he say in a simple city

He came from Porum, Oklahoma in 1934

To a vague California city, population 450.


By Nancy Edwards, “A Canto of His Vision”, in VALLEY LIGHT Writers of the San Joaquin

Gathered by Jane Watts. Poet & Printer Press, 1978





TENDER VOICE                                                     

by Portia Choi

(Written for Nancy Edwards’ memorial celebration)


Sweetness of magnolias,

graciousness of the South,

her mother’s tender voice,


Polish worker ethics,

selling goods at Macy’s,

professor at BC—

inspiration to us all.


God’s smiling gift to us

gifted poet, teacher;

a compassionate friend.


Nancy’s season to be

more of her destiny,

a guiding star for us.


When her words are spoken,

Nancy is here with us

dependable, always.


Nancy, Nancy, Nancy

your gentleness and voice.

Forever here with us.





by Kevin Shah

(Poem was inspired by the memorial celebration)


One at a time

friends flap

like birds

and land on a single branch

which bends under the weight


waiting for

one bird who flew away


waiting for

one bird who flew away


One by one

we sing

hoping for her harmony

or echo song


waiting for

one bird who flew away


Building music billows

in each sad breast


the piercing music

of discord

becomes a cry



one bird

sings her melody


her melody –

and another

joins in harmony


singing for

one bird who flew away


together we sing

until we hear her voice

that unmistakable voice

buoyed on the wings of harmony


High above,

a branch bends like a string

and before we know it,


the spirit of

one bird who flew away


and landed among friends