Thursday, May 5, 2011

A tribute to Dr. Cheryl Jackson on the Occasion of her Retirement

The EKU Department of Curriculum and Instruction gathered to honor two retiring faculty members Tuesday and it was my honor to serve as MC for the festivities. This is the first of two posts.

Cheryl was born on March 3, 1947, in Appleton City, MO. She grew up with her sister Joyce on the family farm about two miles from Lowry City; population 350.

Like many Americans she started her education in a one-room country school. Cheryl says, "It didn't seem to hurt, in fact, in a lot of ways it got me where I am today. In a one-room school you get a lot of individual attention and I have a lot of memories." Cheryl went through her elementary years in a class of five or six students within a school population of about 35 kids.

Cheryl's father was a farmer who turned to turkey farming while she was still young enough to be chased across the field to school in the mornings. “Those things were mean,” Cheryl recalls.

One of Cheryl's earliest memories relates to school, and what one needed to be a great teacher. Before starting first grade herself, she insisted that her mother get her a smock, which she called an “old rag thing,” so that she could be the teacher when she played school with her cousin Jimmy.

Once in school Cheryl always tried to be productive. One day with her friend Bobby, Cheryl planned to make a paper chain that would stretch all the way around the school. But when her parents began questioning the amount of money Cheryl was spending on paper, her parents called for a conference with the teacher. The project was immediately called to a halt and Cheryl was left holding bags and bags of paper chain.

Cheryl remembers liking the itinerant music teacher who visited the school twice a week for 30 min and says "things haven't changed all that much." A musical prodigy in second grade, Cheryl was permitted, after some convincing, to join the fourth-grade students for their recorder lessons. That's what got her started playing wind instruments. Piano lessons followed in third grade, and because Aunt Patsy had one, Cheryl started playing clarinet in fourth-grade. She switched to bass clarinet in junior high.

As a child, Cheryl spent her playtime playing baseball with anyone who would play with her, or, if no one would, by hitting or throwing baseballs over the barn. She liked riding her bicycle. And since her Grandma and Grandpa Bray lived nearby, Cheryl walked to their house to visit while grandma was cooking, doing laundry, or making lye soap. Her grandmother would often ask Cheryl to play the piano in the living room while she was busy in the kitchen.

All through junior high and high school Cheryl was in every ensemble as she could get into. By that time she knew she wanted to become a music teacher. In her senior year she was in 14 ensembles in one day, prompting a music contest rule change, limiting the number of ensembles in which one student might participate, in subsequent years.

While in school, Cheryl participated in many activities: band, choir, solos, small ensembles, accompanying, plays, cheerleading, and the school newspaper. She kept score for the baseball and basketball teams only because she was not allowed to play with the boys. Her community activities included 4-H Club, Methodist Youth Fellowship and she played organ and piano for the church, and sang in the choir.

Cheryl says she was always pretty shy, but every once in a while her gumption would shine through. As a senior, and valedictorian of her high school, Cheryl surprised herself by approaching Dr. Crew, the best instructor at Central Missouri State, (Go Mules!) and announcing that she was looking forward to studying with him during the next year.
Cheryl married in 1966 between her first and second years of college. On November 20, 1969, her children Aaron and Lisa were born. Cheryl stopped going to school and became the cosmetic buyer for the drug store. But she still gave private music lessons at her home on days off. About 1974, Cheryl and her family moved to Clinton; population 9000.

On her shyness: Cheryl says, "When I'm performing, I take on a different attitude. When I'm teaching a class, directing an ensemble; I become an actor, really. It's not just hearing it - performing music just goes to my soul.”

“Music is unique,” she says. “In painting you can take time to start over if you want. But in performance, it's out there. And the reason why music is kind of difficult to comprehend is because it exists in our memory; it's not tangible.”
Teaching music is Cheryl’s way of sharing that deep joy.

She recalls with pride performing with the top ensemble at Michigan State University. And can recalled an event that still sends chills up her spine. Her ensemble was scheduled to perform a full tour under the baton of well-known Maestro Revelly, when he unfortunately passed away. Amazingly the ensemble conducted their tour, which included Elgar's tricky “Procession to the cathedral,” without a conductor and recalls the long ovation for both the performance and as a tribute to their deceased conductor.

In 1979, Cheryl began teaching in a small elementary school and then returned to Central Missouri to finish her bachelor’s degree in music education (1984). Cheryl’s first job after receiving her degree was in a small school near Butler, MO.

Cheryl returned to CMSU to work towards a MA in music education. After completing her master’s degree, and her marriage, Cheryl accepted a position as music director at Smithton High School and moved to Sedalia: population 20,000.

After one year there, Cheryl took a leap of faith and accepted a position in Avon, in the beautiful southeastern corner of SD: population 550. It was the best public school teaching job she would ever have - in the lowest paying state. She taught instrumental music to grades seven through 12 in Avon for three years teaching. While there, her band played at the annual season opening of Mount Rushmore.

She always knew she wanted to teach at the college level, so after three years, Cheryl fulfilled another dream by completing a PhD at Michigan State.

She accepted a position at Eastern Kentucky University in 1998 she became the only music education teacher in the college of education. …and was ultimately banished to “the tower” in the Campbell building where she has lived out her exile. But after a year in Richmond, Cheryl came to realize that she had left home to come home.

Cheryl has several very good friends from the First United Methodist Church where she is very active in the music ministry. In addition, she has performed with the Central Kentucky Concert Band and the Madison Community Band.

Cheryl says that the best thing about working at EKU has been her interactions with the students. She has enjoyed advising and getting to know the students, personally, and helping them solve problems outside the classroom.

Following 15 years as an EKU professor Cheryl says she still enjoys the teaching. The ability to present at national and international music education conferences has also been among the highlights. She has had the opportunity to conduct the EKU Wind Symphony on two occasions, and has played in the ensemble, as well as in the university clarinet choir.

Cheryl has always liked conducting and believes that learning to conduct has been good for her as a naturally shy person. In conducting she learned to establish a presence and command in front of a group of people.

Cheryl and her sister Joyce call each other and their Aunt Lucille every Sunday evening – a habit that they established after their father died.

In 2005, Cheryl traveled to England and Scotland and recalls the trip as an experience of a lifetime.
In December 2007, Cheryl completed a long search for just the right Bichon Frise when she drove to Crab Orchard, and picked up Chloe, her faithful companion, and swimming buddy. She describes the three-year-old Chloe as "the love of my life...I never dreamed I would become this crazy over a dog."

Cheryl is looking forward to officially retiring in December, and moving to Columbia where she will be two hours away from Aaron or Lisa. She would like to spend some time sewing and exploring other arts and crafts. And she has sufficient skills that she made her daughter's wedding dress. She looks forward to attending concerts, ball games, birthday parties, and other family events that her grandchildren are involved in.

And - she says definitively - "I am going to Ireland as soon as possible. I would even consider retiring over there."

On behalf of the College of Education and the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, it is my honor to publicly thank you for your service – to the university – to the field of music education – to the to the thousands of students you taught - and lives you touched.

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