Conejo Valley maestro Elmer Ramsey dies

He was instrumental in university, area music scene

Born in North Dakota, Elmer Ramsey grew up in a musical home in Washington and began playing trumpet professionally at 14. 

Photo: Brian Stethem

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Feb. 13, 2018) After spending more than half a century bringing concerts to the Conejo Valley and guiding generations of musicians, Elmer Ramsey died at his Thousand Oaks home Friday following a short illness. He was 87.

Born in North Dakota, Ramsey grew up in a musical home in Washington and began playing trumpet professionally at 14. After college, he did studio work for NBC and 20th Century Fox, toured with stars like Mel Tormé and conducted concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and venues in Canada, Austria, Germany, England and Israel.

But it was in Ventura County that Ramsey made his biggest mark, as he sought to “find a need and fill it.” He and his family moved to Thousand Oaks in 1965 when he became a professor at California Lutheran University. Ramsey began conducting the college-community symphony and guided it as it became the professional Conejo Symphony Orchestra. He created arrangements for and conducted Cal Lutheran’s orchestra on tours that included stops at the Los Angeles Music Center, and he composed many songs for the university.

“Elmer impacted students so profoundly that many not only went on to become notable artists, but also returned to perform with him for decades,” said Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball. “He also had an impact on anyone who got to know him. His passion and devotion made this university and community a much better, richer place. All of us will miss his warm smile, his gentle nature and his commitment to making beautiful music. Our campus won’t be the same without him.”

Ramsey retired as professor emeritus from Cal Lutheran in 1992, but continued the many music ventures he had started in the community. The Conejo Symphony Orchestra’s success contributed to the need for the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and Ramsey was instrumental in its development. He launched the Conejo Pops Orchestra, which presented popular Independence Day concerts for 44 years until 2016, when muscle weakness forced him to set down his baton. He also co-founded the Oakleaf Music Festival. For a time, he was conducting 14 concerts a year and pulling in guest artists including Shirley Jones, John Raitt and Carol Lawrence.

The Conejo Future Foundation and Thousand Oaks Arts Commission are among the many organizations that have honored Ramsey. In 2009, Cal Lutheran presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Ramsey is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their children Dan, Laura, Janine, Doug and Angela, who all attended Cal Lutheran.

A service will be held in the afternoon on Saturday, April 28, in Cal Lutheran's Samuelson Chapel. To make donations to the future Cal Lutheran Center for Media and Performing Arts in his memory, mail them to 60 W. Olsen Road #1625, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360, go to CalLutheran.edu/memorialgift or contact Lana Clark at 805-493-3163 or lclark@callutheran.edu.

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