Barbara Rea Pearson
1946 - 2018
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Barbara Rea Pearson, a dancer, choreographer and educator, who was a mainstay of the Lehigh Valley arts community for more than 40 years, passed away on July 9, 2018, after suffering from cancer. She died with her loving husband Victor Willems by her side. Pearson had extensive training in classical ballet, modern and theater dance, and was an authority on Renaissance, Baroque and other early dance forms. She was a featured performer at Bethlehem's Musikfest in its earliest years, created a long running Renaissance pageant at Lehigh University's Packer Memorial Church and served as an Arts-in-Education consultant in schools around the country. Her specialty was teaching core curriculum through the use of dance and the arts. Pearson moved to the Lehigh Valley in the early 1970's when her first husband, John Haskew Pearson, became the head of the drama department at Lehigh. In 1976, Pearson's husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise three small children on her own. It was then Pearson moved the family to the house she would live in for the rest of her life in historic downtown Bethlehem. The following year, Pearson and several of her late husband's students formed The People's Theater Company in Bethlehem. It performed family oriented shows at street festivals, parks, schools and other venues. Early productions included "Petrushka," inspired by the Stravinsky ballet; "Cats," based on the T.S. Elliott poem; and the fairy tale, "Beauty and the Beast." The group also performed the annual Renaissance pageant, "Christmas Revels." It featured elaborate costumes, a sword fight, and live music and dance, all meticulously researched and choreographed by Pearson. In the 1980's, Pearson founded a dance school with more than 100 students, served as an adjunct professor teaching Movement in Early Childhood Education at Moravian College and Northampton Community College, and completed numerous residencies in public schools with programs designed to integrate movement into the teaching of math, science and language arts. She was also a founding director of the Arts in Education Coalition of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. Pearson was born in Montreal, Canada, on October 29, 1946, to American parents. She was raised in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Her father, Samuel A. Rea was the President of the Rea Magnet and Wire Company. Her mother, Eleanor Appel, was a visual artist and art teacher. Growing up, Pearson developed what would become lifelong passions, swimming and sailing at her parents' summer cottage in Leland, Michigan, vacationing with her large extended family - and especially dancing. Her sister Polly Rea remembers attending a production of the ballet the Nutcracker when they were children. She says Pearson exclaimed, "I want to do that!" Pearson attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and spent her junior year at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She remained passionate about French language and culture for the rest of her life. Later, she obtained a Masters of Liberal Arts at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. In 2006, Pearson married Willems. Together they began an exciting new life together that included biking and long walks, entertaining friends, visiting family, and beloved annual trips to Paris. Their love for one another and enthusiasm for the life they shared was obvious to all who knew them. Willems cared for Pearson throughout her illness, until the end of her life, with steadfast devotion. In addition to Willems, Pearson is survived by her mother, Eleanor Golden; her sister, Polly Rea; her two half-brothers, Scott and James Rea; her step-siblings, Catherine Golden, Charles Golden, Ann McCann, Beth Raymond, and Bob and Chip Zimmerman; her sister-in-law, Wendy Thompson; her three adult children, Vincent, Arthur and Mary Pearson; her daughters-in-law, Sara Beszterczey and Jane Pearson; her four grandchildren, Haskew, Samuel, John and Evan Pearson; her step-daughter, Hunter Pearson Silides and children, Stephen, Christian, Grace, and Hope Silides; her step-daughter, Ingrid Willems and children Chloe, Erike, and Olivia Cusano; and her niece, Sarah Rea. She is predeceased by her father Samuel A. Rea and her brother Samuel A. Rea, Jr. Friends and relatives will remember Pearson as an extremely energetic and creative force, who was passionate about music, art, history and above all friends and family. She was not a solo performer. She wanted everyone to join the dance. VIEWING: There will be a viewing on Sunday, July 15, 2018 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Herron Funeral Home at 458 Center Street (at Market Street) in Bethlehem, PA. SERVICE: Those who wish to attend the Graveside Service on Monday, July 16, 2018 at the Memorial Garden of Nisky Hill Cemetery in Bethlehem are encouraged to meet at the Herron Funeral Home at 9:45 a.m. in order to process with Barbara's family to the cemetery. A Memorial Service of her life will be held in the Autumn of 2018 at a time to be announced. CONTRIBUTIONS: In lieu of flowers to the American Cancer Society, or to Touchstone Theatre at or 321 East Fourth Street Bethlehem, PA 18015.

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Published in Morning Call on Jul. 12, 2018.
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16 entries
November 14, 2019
So sorry to hear of Barbara's passing. I had the pleasure of working with Barbara when she was an artist in residence in the Parkland School District.
What a great lady!
Cathy Walkovic
December 17, 2018
I cannot believe she is gone. My daughter very much enjoyed dance classes with Barb, over 30 years ago. Barb's spirit lives on in all who were touched by her magic. I am really sad that she has gone. I can't imagine how her friends and family feel. I was a mere acquaintance.
Kathleen O'Donnell
September 11, 2018
So saddened and shocked to hear the news of Barbara's passing... Such a loving and up beat sole who was full of so much life and love. She will be so missed. The dance world of the Lehigh Valley will miss her. With loving memories,
Coral Nolan
Coral Nolan
August 5, 2018
This is a beautiful tribute to a woman with a stunning spirit. She touched innumerable lives of children and grown ups through dance and drama. Her family and friends will carry her spirit on through their own lives. When persons like Barbara Rea Pearson pass away, they leave their talents and love and generosity with their students and friends and family. We all need to carry on with the same strong and generous spirit that she had.
Jo Switzer
July 24, 2018
I first saw Barbara`s choreography in AS I LAY DYING at Lehigh University many years ago. It was brilliant. She was brilliant. Sorry to see her go.
Norman Roberts, Bethlehem, PA
July 23, 2018
I am so sorry to hear...belatedly...of Barbara's passing. She was the "real thing" -- a spirit so true and genuine -- that it was always a pleasure to see her or to spend time with her. I liked her very much. I will miss her. Condolences to her family from myself, my husband Fred, and our children Jess and Sara.
Johanna Brams
July 23, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018

Dear Victor,

My deepest sympathy to you and the rest of Barbara's family.

I was Barbie's roommate at Carleton in 1965-66, our sophomore year. She was known as Barbie then. In the mid-60's, as a nineteen year old, Barbie was arty and very cool. She was sophisticated--studying modern dance and French. She was physically beautiful and emotionally vibrant, as she remained throughout her life.

We lived on second Gridley, an old wooden building just off the bald spot on the women's side of campus. On the stroke of six, the house mother' would lead the women residents down to the dining room in the basement of Gridley where we would all sit down for supper at the same time. The men's dorms were on the other side of the bald spot. Men could only come into our dorm on Sunday afternoonand our dorm room doors had to be open.

Barbie and I were generally good girls. But as this anecdote illustrates, we were capable of bad judgment that got us into trouble. Or at least I was. I wanted to learn how to smoke cigarettes. She knew how to smoke and agreed to teach me. In Gridley, smoking was only permitted in one room on the second floor-- the smoking lounge. I didn't want my lessons to be observed so we decided to practice smoking in our room. At Christmas break, when the cleaning staff found an ashtray we had left under our bed, we were busted. We had to go to a student-run hearing where we were lectured by peers whom we knew were more rebellious than we. Our punishment was social probation for a year (not academic probation, because in academics we were smarter). Barbie went to France the next year and I stayed behind and minded my ps and qs. Happily we graduated in good academic and social standing, both having wised up to the risk of inadvertently burning down Gridley.

Fast forward nearly 50 years. It was our 45th reunion at Carleton, 2013. I had talked to Barbara about coming and she decided to. It was the first reunion she attended: classmates were very glad to see her. They asked her to do a program for the class on her life since Carleton and she agreed. It was a wonderful show. She used dance and music to demonstrate how she taught science curriculum to children. She got 20 of us up in fronthalf with red hats moving about the room to demonstrate blood flowing out of the heart and half with blue hats, also moving throughout the room, for the blood coming back to the heart. Then she choreographed a similar demonstration for the synapses in the brain. I think we were tossing tennis balls and miming electricity. It was simple but brilliant. She talked of bringing you to the 50th reunion so you could share this part of her life. Unfortunately, she was too sick to come in June, 2018.

Barbara's vitality, resilience and love for you were my clearest memories from my recent visit with her. Very best wishes to you and the rest of Barbara's family in this heart rending time.

Carolyn Chalmers
July 21, 2018
I remember so many happy times with my daughter and Barbara at the Rose Garden Children's Festival as well as Musikfest and other events. She gave me a chance to teach one of her classes when she went on vacation many years ago. It was so much fun for me, and I think of it often. I will really miss her.
Sally Cordova
July 20, 2018
July 17, 2018
So sorry to hear of Barbara's passing. She was a gifted dancer and such a kind person. We were members of the Fort Wayne Ballet Company. Thoughts and prayers to her family at this difficult time.
Pamela Kepler Sowers
July 16, 2018
So sorry to hear of Barbara"s passing. I am consoled in the fact that she had a full and adventurous life. She will be missed.
Please keep me informed of memorial service. Jett Sarachek
Jett Sarachek
July 15, 2018
Barbara was a major force in my life as I made the leap into the performing arts (literally it was a leap as I was part of the troupe of dancers to perform "Christmas Revels"!) I went on from there to leave my job in a law firm and become one of the founding members of Touchstone and have continued to this day as a working artist with my own company. I really owe it all to Barbara and it is to her credit that I never once looked back! She brought me into her world and her family at a critical point in my life Barbara was a force of nature -- a beautiful, creative, intelligent, passionate person inside and out. Altho our lives took divergent paths, I have and always will feel a deep love and connection with her. She is in my heart as are Vincent, Arthur and Mary (although they may not remember me I knew them well when they were young!) My prayers to them and Willem and all her loving friends and family. She will live long in our memories. With love, Lorraine (Zeller-Agostino)
Lorraine Zeller-Agostino
July 14, 2018
I will miss Barbara today and everyday. May Victor and Barbara's Family find comfort in knowing others share their sorrow. Eternal love and blessings
Dawn Ketterman-Benner
July 13, 2018
Dear Mary and Family ,
Am so sorry to hear about your mothers passing.
She was loved by us all here. We have so many memories with her start up of her dance school and fun times at the ballet guild. Will treasure those times. Blessing to you all and many hugs. May God's eternal light shine upon her.
Maureen Cadden
July 13, 2018
Bearly Lovable
Dave Fry
July 12, 2018
Enduring Grace
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