Patricia Binko took to music at an early age and was persuaded by her parents John Frank and Agnes Knoll Binko to take violin lessons starting in third grade. Years later Binko would teach generations of students and parents violin at even earlier ages using the popular Suzuki method that she learned directly from Shinichi Suzuki in Japan.
Born in 1934 at Deaconess Hospital in Minneapolis, Binko attended St. Bridget grade school and St. Anthony High School in Minneapolis. Binko felt the calling for religious life while a senior in high school. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1952 and was given the religious name Gabrielle but later went back to using her baptismal name.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, have had a long history of providing arts and music education in St. Paul. They founded St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Arts in 1884. It was there that Binko had her first assignment, working in the refectory (dining hall) of St. Agatha’s, and studied the piano.
Later she taught music and gave piano lessons at Mary Hall in St. Paul, Ascension School in Minneapolis and Good Shepherd School in Golden Valley. She continued her own music education at what is now St. Catherine University and the University of North Dakota, earning a bachelor of arts and then a master’s in education.
Sister Pat became a teacher and string director to elementary students for the next seven years. That time also included a year at a private Suzuki school in Grand Forks. The year with the Suzuki method convinced her to move to Japan in 1984, where she stayed with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Tsu, taught English there and studied directly with Suzuki.
The Suzuki method is based on language acquisition theories and starts with students as young as 3. By creating a positive environment in which to learn music, the method also helps to develop character in children.
Peggy O’Leary, who also joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1952, said Binko enjoyed the challenge of developing the children’s character as much as their music. “Her great desire was to share with little children and help them pursue their dreams of advancing in music,” O’Leary said.
When she returned from Japan, she opened her own Suzuki Talent Education School first at the Carondelet Center, then at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in West St. Paul and at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Sunfish Lake.
The Rev. John Snider of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church said Binko had a very direct style and that she was rooted in prayer and devotion. She operated her school at St. Stephen’s for a number of years. One of Snider’s own children studied with Binko, and he spoke at her funeral.
In the months before her death she explained to Snider: “I want people to understand I wasn’t doing music lessons. I was teaching character, I was developing young people with the tool of music.”
Sam Meyer, who started lessons with Binko at age 4 and studied with her for eight years, is now a senior in college and played at Binko’s service last week. “One of the most important things to her, was that music was to be shared,” Meyer said.
“She emphasized practicing with quality,” Meyer said. “She taught me to focus.”
Meyer said many of her former students have continued in music. “As we get older, we appreciate more and more the impact she had on our lives,” he said.
Binko was preceded in death by her parents and brother Jerry, and is survived by sister-in-law Nancy, two nieces, two grandnieces and a grandnephew.