Memorial service set for folk dance festival founder Nelda Drury

March 1, 2019 GMT

When people learned that San Antonio Folk Dance Festival founder Nelda Drury had entered hospice care, dozens reached out to her children in hopes of coming to see her at least one last time.

On what turned out to be her final day, 16 people stopped by to visit, her daughter Elizabeth Newton said, and three other people called to talk to her over the phone.

Newton teased her mother about the turnout.

“By that afternoon, she said she wanted to rest, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, Mom, people want to see you. You’re very popular, and that’s the price you pay for popularity,’” Newton said.

Her last visitor was from her pastor. They prayed together, Newton said, and within two hours, Drury had died.

“I guess that must have been the perfect time,” Newton said, noting that her mother greeted each day by speaking to God. “Every day, she would say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for a new day of living.’ That was her mantra.”

Drury died Feb. 21, about two months shy of her 101st birthday.

A memorial service will be 2 to 4 p.m. March 9 at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 211 Roleto.

Drury’s family has requested that donations to the folk dance festival be made in lieu of sending flowers.

“We’d really rather have donations to the festival to help promote the arts,” Newton said. “Mother had plenty of flowers from family members and friends during her lifetime.”

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Drury got her first taste of folk dancing when she was 5 years old. A student from the teachers’ college in San Marcos came to her school to teach the youngsters some dance steps, Newton recalled in an interview with the Express-News last year in advance of the 60th annual festival.

“I remember Mother saying she got to swish her skirt and they put lipstick on her,” Newton recalled then. “She said, ‘This is living!’”

Drury created the dance program at San Antonio College, where she taught for 25 years. And she taught dance all over the world, including a memorable stint in Japan that she particularly loved.

In an interview last year, Drury recalled that instead of having a written exam at the end of her classes, she had her students take part in a dinner dance: “At first, they didn’t want to do it — ‘Do we have to?’ And I said, ‘No, but this is in lieu of a written final. If you don’t do this, you have to take the written final.’ And, at the end of the night, they would say, ‘Can we do this next month?’”

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The folk dance festival paid tribute to Drury last year as part of its 60th anniversary celebrations.

This year’s festival takes place March 14-17 at Our Lady of the Lake University. Plans are being paid to salute her during the event, Newton said.

The festival has established a scholarship fund in Drury’s honor to help dancers participate in the event, which includes workshops as well as performances.

Drury’s husband, Douglas, died in 2010. She is survived by her children, Elizabeth Newton and James Drury; and by one grandson, four great-granddaughters and one great-great granddaughter, Newton said.

“She loved kids, so that was a real blessing,” Newton said. “She’d be real weak, saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do this,’ and I’d bring in the baby, and all of the sudden, she’d be superwoman.”

dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN

Deborah Martin is an arts writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | dlmartin@express-news.net | Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN