Verna Raycraft stands beside her magnificent Nutcracker collection that she has put together over the past 20 years in appreciation of the famous early Tchaikovsky ballet classic and for her great love of music, which she had carried on and shared with her community for many decades. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Reflections: A Ponoka resident’s Nutcracker collection a delight

Verna Raycraft’s collection is feast for the eyes

By Mike Rainone for the News

Verna Raycraft was born and raised in Ponoka and over the years and to this day she has enjoyed and cherished being a very active member of the community in so many caring and sharing ways.

The daughter of long-time Ponoka residents Connie and Vera Cerveny, Verna took all her schooling here and worked part time at the post office before graduating from the Red Brick School. She was later employed at the Provincial Mental Hospital, where she met and later married Reg Raycraft and they would welcome and raise their family of daughter Shawn and son Brent in the same delightful 47th Avenue bungalow that she still calls home.

Sharing a lifetime of music with others

As a little girl Verna Raycraft developed a great passion for music, recalling that her first teacher, Mr. Walter Young, would always ask her during the Christmas season to learn an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s classic late 1800s and forever popular fairy tale The Nutcracker. She became very familiar with this music and would dream about The Sugar Plum Fairy, and then when her parents took her to Edmonton to see this magnificent ballet she was totally ‘hooked’, and like every young girl longed to become a ballerina.

Verna jovially explained that her body would eventually become better shaped to fit a piano bench than into a pair of ballet shoes, so later in her busy family life she would study hard and finally received her Music Degree and began to teach piano lessons to students of all ages from throughout the community. Verna fondly recalled that she hosted the first of her countless music recitals in 1970 at her Ponoka home. ‘One of my students was the daughter of the local Undertaker, and he kindly loaned me the chairs from his funeral parlour.’ Out of curiosity this year Mrs. Verna Raycraft decided to fondly remember how many piano students that she has taught over the past 48 years, and discovered with amazement that number to be 365, including several second generation families. She is presently happy to still have eight students coming over every week for lessons on her very old early traditional family piano.

Verna has diligently kept a copy of each and every program since she started teaching and also has a delightful scrapbook full of pictures and memories of her wonderful students.

Verna Raycraft has always really enjoyed being involved in her community, is a very active 43 year member of the Ponoka Legion Ladies Auxiliary, and loves to share her musical skills with everyone. She also really looks forward to help with the organizing of her Ponoka Brick School Grad class reunions over the years, and as a proud grandmother of three she has enjoyed travelling to visit family and friends.

A great collection of Nutcracker memories

What a pleasant surprise it was last week when Ponoka News Editor Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye and I had the opportunity of visiting Verna Raycraft and were quite overwhelmed by her Christmas decorations and artifacts from throughout the years, as well as an amazing collection of her Nutcracker subjects.

It all started out with the two inflatable Nutcracker characters that she found in a store over 20 years ago and placed beside her front porch every Christmas. From that point on this vibrant lady has collected 57 of these colourful and delicately painted figures in all sizes and shapes to display around her comfortable home. Her treasured Nutcracker collectibles are made of wood, glass and plastic, include salt and pepper shakers, vary in size from a few inches to over three feet tall, and she is always looking for more. Verna has always been so pleased and appreciative when over the years her piano students have given her Christmas gifts, quite often to add to her magical Nutcracker family. She so fondly recalls on festive season when a young lad proudly presented her with a new character for her collection, wished her a Merry Christmas and then shyly explained that he wasn’t supposed to tell his teacher that his Mother picked up the item up a local garage sale for $5.

Verna’s father Connie Cerveny lived on the family farm in the Sharphead district and following his marriage to Vera the happy couple moved into the bustling Town of Ponoka in 1928. Their first home was the new local Ladies’ Restroom, of which they would become the congenial caretakers. Connie was an auto-mechanic and worked for the Longman Brothers and at Field Motors before opening his own service station in 1934. While Connie served as a dedicated 25 year member of the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Brigade, he and Vera were also active members of the Ponoka BPO Elks and Royal Purple Lodges and were always avid supporters of their community. It is interesting to note that Connie Cerveny became a longstanding member of the Ponoka Community Band at the age of 15 years and would be very proud to know that his daughter Verna has carried on the great family music tradition for so many years.

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