After the article about my Concord school days appeared, I received a delightful phone call from someone I mentioned in that piece – Tom Rogers. Our conversation resulted in a couple of Paul Harvey-esque “rest of the story” moments.
In my article I wrote about Tennessee Ernie Ford’s coal miner song at a pep rally. As it turns out, during a family visit in Kentucky, the sisters of Tom’s wife Carolyn showed off a new cheer based on “Sixteen Tons.” The Ohio visitors took the words home, and the Concord cheerleaders enthusiastically added the cheer to their repertoire. Tom also worked with the high school kids to prepare the May Day dance they performed around the flagpole on the front lawn.
I can recall my first meeting with Mr. Rogers, as I knew him then. He came to our first-grade classroom as our music teacher; I can still sing “Come with Me to the Candy Shop.”
Mr. Rogers possessed scads of other talents and interests. He and his wife spent their summers in Washington, where he worked as a trail crew foreman in Mount Rainier National Park. My sister, a student in Mrs. Rogers’ first grade class, received a letter from her teacher the next summer. That letter and its envelope bearing the faraway Enumclaw, Washington return address was a family treasure.
Mr. Rogers and I met again during my sophomore year at Graham. Having earned a library science degree, he served as school librarian in the brand new library. I worked as a student librarian and belonged to the Library Club. Our meetings were always interesting: we decorated for Christmas or learned about Silly Willy, who loved Tallahassee but not Florida.
Mr. Rogers formed a folk dance club for GHS students and also advised the National Honor Society chapter; my sisters and I were members of both. Years later when I became NHS advisor, I found items bearing his handwriting in the box of materials I inherited.
We finally became colleagues when I starting teaching; it was then that I recognized Tom for the Renaissance man he is. In addition to all the music, trail work, and librarying, he had fought in the war; and he and Carolyn built their own house. I spent many a conference period in the library office challenged and inspired by our conversations on unexpectedly diverse topics.
And Carolyn was the teacher who allowed this fourth-grade girl to work in the first-grade classroom during noon recess. Loving school as I did, it was in that year as her classroom helper that I knew I wanted to become a teacher.
Carolyn just celebrated her 50th year as organist at the Messiah Lutheran Church. I had the occasional good fortune to hear her play when she filled in for the Concord Methodist Church organist. I cannot adequately describe the peaceful beauty of her music.
During seventh grade, Ruth Peirson became our music teacher. I loved the songs Mrs. Peirson chose for us. During junior high and high school, we sang love songs from great composers: “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” We sang crowd-pleasers such as “The Syncopated Clock” and “Alice Blue Gown.” Two of my all-time favorites, “I Know a Green Cathedral” and “Now Blessed Daylight Fills the Sky,” were beautiful combinations of nature and faith. And I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the glorious “Hallelujah Chorus.”
In addition to her top-notch musical gifts – boy, could she play the piano – Mrs. Peirson had another noteworthy talent: showmanship. She added an unexpected flourish here, an entertaining dash there, staged a song with flair. Once she included our junior high choir in the high school Christmas concert: all choir members, battery-operated candles in hand, entered the darkened auditorium singing “Silent Night.”
And during one high school concert she directed us in a beautiful cantata. Her staging included risers arranged in unconcert-like groupings right on the gym floor, and we sang “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.”
When I returned to GHS as a fellow teacher, Ruth was casting her choir members in springtime musicals including My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and – my favorite – Guys and Dolls. She annually transformed a gym equipped with basketball goals and scoreboard into the Champaign County version of Broadway.
Ruth’s spouse was also instrumental in her productions. Dwight, an organist in addition to his profession of banking, occasionally attended our choir class and provided accompaniment each year for his wife’s stage productions. This power couple presided over quite an era of musical entertainment at Graham.
Far from completely-researched biographies, what I have written here are recollections of my experiences with people influential at various points in my life. When I focus on my times as a kid or teenager or even newbie teacher, I delight in the mixture of typical events and memorable highlights made possible by these individuals.
Pulling back for the wide shot, however, I find an amazing perspective of professional adults filled with talents, visions, and high expectations for themselves. They pushed themselves to excel and, in the process, nudged us to develop our talents and form our own visions. Who knew that a couple of music teachers and their spouses, in a small school district surrounded by Ohio farmland, would create such lovely memories of music – and so much more.