In Your Midst


Spring 2000

St. James Cathedral parish has among its many wonderful members a father and a daughter whose presence and talents seem to come as effortlessly as the ebb and flow of an Elliott Bay tide. Vilem (Bill) Sokol is “the Maestro” to many in the Seattle music scene.

At age 15, Bill attended a Fritz Kreisler concert and knew then that he wanted to be a violinist. His parents, immigrants from Czechoslovakia prior to World War II, somehow found a way to send Bill to study with a renowned musician in Boston. Later Bill attended Oberlin College until he was drafted near the end of World War II.

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While stationed with the Air Force in Biloxi, Mississippi, Bill played with a jazz orchestra and met a young WAC member and violinist, Agatha Hoeschele. It was August 15, 1949 when they met and they were married in the fall of that year.

Dr. Stanley Chapple, head of the University of Washington School of Music, recruited him to join the UW faculty. Bill taught at the UW from 1948 to 1985, and was principal violinist for the Seattle Symphony. He conducted the Seattle Youth Symphony for 28 years, before retiring in May 1988.

The Youth Symphony was the center of the Sokol family becoming a family affair with Agatha Sokol running the “office” quite literally out of their home on Capitol Hill. That home overflowed with their nine children and the sounds of music.

At one time six of the children were in the “big” Youth Symphony, and by the time Bill retired, all nine had been members. Daughter Jenny says her father, who still teaches, has a special insight into students who do not seem at first the “most gifted,” then guides them to find that special talent within.

Jenny Sokol is a musician as are her eight brothers and sisters. You have heard her many times as the violin soloist at Sunday Masses and at Cathedral concerts. Jenny is a frequent violinist with the Seattle Symphony. She is the author and artist of three coloring books for children that you can find in the Cathedral Bookstore: All Kinds of Living Creatures, the animalsin St. James Cathedral; Open Now The Gates of Heaven, a children’s guide to the Ceremonial Bronze Doors of St. James, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a presentation of her life and message. Jenny also created and made the seraphimbanner, the 40-foot plus angel wings used this year and last in the Great Music for Great Cathedrals concerts.

For the first time, the Seattle Youth Symphony will appear at St. James Cathedral in concert May 20. Maestro Sokol will be the special guest conductor in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony II and Wagner’s Pilgrims’ Chorus.

A daily routine for Alfredo and Rosario Valdez (Fred and Rosie) has Fred attending the 8:15 morning Mass and Rosie, the 5:30 evening liturgy. On Sundays they are both eucharistic ministers for the noon Mass while their nephews, Jason and Josh Taton, are often Mass servers.

Fred and Rosie came to Seattle from the Philippines in 1975. They met each other while attending Seattle Central Community College and were married in St. James Cathedral in 1977. Rose joined the administrative staff at Seattle Central Community College and Fred joined the University of Washington Custodial Department in 1976 and is now a lead custodian.

Rosie is also one of the Cathedral’s more expressive and clearly understood readers and has read in Tagalog (Filipino dialect) for special liturgies. Fred assists in the sacristy and serves as a special minister at funerals.

Rosie worked at Seattle Central Community College in the English Department for more than 20 years as an administrative assistant. “I didn’t know what ‘burn out’ meant until it happened to me,” Rosie explained. “Leaving the only position I had ever held was difficult, but even more difficult was changing careers and finding a new job. It was a long process and painful. I tried to understand what God was telling me. It wasn’t until I began attending daily Mass at St. James that I listened to what was being said in the scripture readings and started reading the Bible. I had tried reading it years ago, but never got past all the ‘begots.’ As I slowed down, I heard what was being said to me. That’s when God came”.

Rosie recalled years where she was introverted, believing she had nothing to offer family or religion. But during the “downtime,” that painful time between the community college and joining the Harborview Hospital staff, God worked a small miracle in her. Rosie says He gave her the confidence to begin a new career, to speak out at family gatherings and from the ambo, and to have a new heart for her faith. Thank you, God. Thank you, Rosie.

Joan McDonell is a St. James Cathedral parishioner, a member of the Development Committee and a retired Seattle Times editor.

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