Maureen “Mo” Palmateer became one of OCs most kind-hearted, respected and adored figures for decades after running what is recognized as the instrument and knick-knack packed store known as Mo’s Fullerton Music Center. Palmateer passed away on Oct. 21, 2016 after battling cancer. She was 73. Although she is gone, her legacy will remain through her shop and the many who love and cherish her.
Born and raised in Yakima, Washington, Palmateer came from a musical family with a mother whom possessed an extraordinary talent for playing piano, violin and singing opera. During her adolescence, she belted songs with a heavenly voice and eventually started a group with her closest friends called The Shades of Rhythm. It was then she would find herself singing all over the valley. During her junior and senior year of high school, she became a student teacher for choir classes. Her family later bought a piano and music book, which Palmateer graciously raced right through in a matter of a week and became incredibly proficient at playing. Her love for music did not stop there. Mo would find herself working part time at a local radio station as a disc jockey and interviewing all the locals at the time and big names, including Little Richard. When she wasn’t spending all her time on music, she was cheer-leading and participating in civil rights protests and marches.
Palmateer started working for a chain of music stores in Chicago for a number of years in order to support her two children as a single mother. She also worked as a landscape architect and did work on Richard Nixon's house and was a plan checker for Lake Julian. After a terrible horse accident, she wound up in a wheelchair. To pass the time, Palmateer bought an organ and eventually went back to buy a bigger one. Little did she know that her love for playing the organ would land her a job at another music store. The owner of the store asked her to play and immediately offered her a position.
“He put her out in the front of the store playing the organ. And then one day, she decided to stand up and play the organ, and she’s been walking ever since," Roger Palmateer, husband, tells the Weekly.
Within her first six months of working after beginning to walk again, she sold more organs and pianos than anyone ever dreamed of…to the point where her work had to import pianos from other markets in order to keep her busy. Her exceptional work ethic scored her an all-expense paid two week vacation to the Bahamas and a set of furniture.
Mo first worked at the Fullerton Music Center through the rental programs for pianos. After working there for years, she was offered to purchase the building and did so in the early '70s. Although Mo never intended on buying the shop, her vision was to sell pianos and organs. Her store would soon become a prominent landmark and mold Fullerton's music scene. About 19 of the teachers that worked there prior to stuck with Mo and 12 still work there to this day, bringing in over 300 students. It was recognized just a few years ago for its sheet music department and lessons and won a plaque for "Orange County's Best Sheet Music," with more than 2,500 square feet to choose from. Mo introduced a boutique element to the store and held the mentality of "the only constant is change."
Mo and her husband Roger met July 20, 1990 and married on Oct. 24, 1992. They had a small wedding and threw their party at the shop, where 350 of their friends and family showed up to enjoy a live band, acapella, the Lord's prayer, and a cake fight.
Roger describes his wife as "tough as nails," the only girl out of four siblings and proved herself to be so after having the will to come into work right after getting out of the hospital. After her visits, she would come into work at 6 a.m. and take care of her shop – aside from her and Roger's two poodles Zoom and Susie, the shop was like their baby.
Although Mo's Fullerton Music Center never gets much advertising, the shop has managed and still manages to bring in customers through word of mouth – the majority of which have been going there for decades. A sign in the music center reads "enter as strangers, leave as friends" – Mo was big on applying this to how she treated her customers and treated them with the same level of kindness and sincerity she would share with a life-long friend. Because of the level of community the shop has created, the employees know their fair share of customers on a first name basis. There is an instant welcoming and warm feeling as soon as you walk through the door that not many shops can provide.
"This is the best job I've ever had, best job I've ever had by far…Over here feels like vacation," an employee says.
Roger Palmateer has no intention of changing the store and insists on keeping it the same.
"It's painful for the ones you leave behind. There's 12 teachers in here that miss her deeply, her family – that's me, her son, daughter, son, 12 grand-kids, 8 great grandchildren…all the customers [who] come in here."