A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Sunny Gardner

A La Porte County Life in the Spotlight: Sunny Gardner

It was a summer day in Colorado and viola music permeated the space. By this time, Sunny Gardner had already studied the instrument as a child, developing a passion for music which only grew with time. 

Now, high school student Gardner was at Rocky Ridge music camp, a summer youth program provided by Rocky Ridge Music Center. The camp was located a stone’s throw away from Rocky Mountain National Park. With her father being a seasonal park ranger, Gardner already had a familiarity and devotion to the area. The experience only further propelled her into a love for classical music, joining the orchestra and taking music lessons where she would practice three hours a day; It was upon observing one particular concert where Gardner realized that it was her passion.

“It just came to me at some point during the concert that I wanted to devote my whole life to music–that music was worthy of a person's whole life,” said Gardner. “I said to myself ‘Where did that come from? That's crazy.’”

Yet, despite her passion for music, she found herself more talented in another form of artistic expression: painting and drawing, a talent which she seeked to gain academic accreditation in through college.

After earning her undergraduate degree in painting and drawing, she found herself experiencing motherhood and raising children–a period of maturation which inspired her to earn a teaching certificate in art to play a part in other children’s growth as well, a career which spanned 20 years within Michigan City’s public school system. While the times in which Gardner has fulfilled the teacher’s role is an abundance, she has also played the role of learner more recently as well. Gardner’s daughter is currently getting her education degree in music and has been sharing her knowledge with her proud mother.

“My daughter is giving me voice lessons. I should be teaching her when she’s really teaching me more about singing,” said Gardner. “She was kind of an unwilling choir student at first, but to now come back and teach her mother and give her some singing lessons, it's just a mother's greatest joy.”

Gardner’s daughter is not the only other in the family to be heavily involved in music, however. Gardner’s husband, Nic Orbovich, is the principal second violin for the South Bend Symphony Orchestra. Together, they host the annual Michigan City Chamber Music Festival.

The festival originated 22 years ago when Orbovich and his fellow musicians believed that having an orchestra-lead concert could create an environment in which musicians would enthusiastically volunteer to perform. Since then, the festival at Michigan City’s First Presbyterian Church has enjoyed immense success, sporting a core group of cellists and violinists, as well as esteemed oboist Nancy Ambrose King. For Gardner, bringing together a community of musicians is the greatest blessing of the event.

“Music is communal, it just has to be. You have to share it,” said Gardner. “We have many wonderful, long-term relationships with great musicians. They are dear friends that come year after year to the festival to share their wonderful talent. It's really quite an honor.”

While the festival is especially cherished in her life, it is hardly the sole engagement which keeps Gardner busy. Gardner has an extensive number of involvements within the community, namely being a member of both Michigan City’s Messiah Chorus and Board. Her artistic endeavors carry on as well as she continues to practice viola, often performing for her church. 

Additionally, her skills with a pencil and paintbrush have allowed her to own her art studio now, her favorite projects being oil painting and drawing. To the creative mind, every activity is an opportunity to innovate, and Gardner certainly exemplifies the quality. Gardner considers herself a super recycler and naturalist, often opting to make household items herself, specifically soap. Gardner offers some insight on the process.

“There's two elements: fat–and I typically use either vegetable oil, coconut oil, or olive oil–combined with lye, the element that you use to clean out your drain,” said Gardner. “It chemically alters it to a soapy substance rather than a greasy one. It's quite an amazing substance when you make it yourself.”

Whether it be soap, art pieces, or musical notes, Gardner is always creating.