An unsung hero

Thursday, April 1, 2010

There are many unsung heroes in our community, and this month, I'd like to sing the praises of one outstanding individual who deserves a little time in the spotlight. My use of music and stage terminology in the opening sentence of this editorial is no coincidence, because the person I'd like to honor is Cassville High School's long-time choir director Mary Richmiller. It's also a fitting time to showcase one of this area's fine arts professionals, because today is the last day of March, which has been designated as Music in Our Schools month.

Mary has been a member of the CHS faculty for 17 years, and based on that tenure, it's safe to estimate that Mary has impacted the lives of several thousand students. This year alone, Mary is directing four different choirs that involve over 100 students and also teaches a guitar class and music appreciation. She not only teaches these students on a day-to-day basis but she also works with them before and after the school day to help prepare them for choir competitions and auditions. In addition, Mary schedules students to sing the National Anthem at sporting events, and she also prepares a number of special pieces that students perform at various school events, such as the annual Veterans Day Assembly and graduation.

Each year, Mary's students excel at district and state competitions, which is proof of her effectiveness and skill as a vocal music teacher. If you take this year as a snapshot of students' success, you'll find that Cassville had three students selected to the prestigious All-State Choir. In all, there were only 16 students selected for this honor from 40 southwest Missouri area high schools, and Cassville claimed three of those spots. In addition, Mary had 40 students make the All-District choir this year (the largest group from any school), and eight who were selected for a regional choir that recently returned from a performance in Denver, Colo. Two of Mary's choir students also earned places in the highly selective Missouri Fine Arts Academy that will be held this summer.

Over the years, Mary's choir students have also earned college scholarships through their vocal music abilities. Many of these students would not have been able to afford a college education without this scholarship assistance that came as a result of their involvement in the Cassville High School choir program.

It should also be noted that Mary is loved by her students. Not only is Mary a gifted vocal music teacher and choir director, but she is the best kind of educator. She is one of those teachers who truly cares about each of her students and makes time to be available to any student who might need her assistance. Mary sees the talent in each of her students and finds ways to develop their confidence in those abilities.

I have always been a strong advocate for high school fine arts curriculum. These programs are vital to the education of our young people. It's a proven fact that students' involvement in music and art strengthens brain function and leads to overall improvement in more traditional classroom subjects. The arts also provide a way for a huge segment of the student population to become involved in their school. There are as many students involved in band, choir and art activities as there are involved in athletics, and their achievements are equally as impressive but rarely get the notoriety they deserve.

Mary has played a huge role in building a strong and highly respected music education program at Cassville High School, and I believe she deserves a big round of applause for her dedication. If you've ever watched a choir performance, you'll see Mary take a quick bow at the end of a performance and then step aside to give her choirs center stage. This week, I ask Mary to step into the spotlight and let the community thank her for her dedicated service to Cassville and its young people. You are a class act, Mary, and this community owes you a standing ovation.

Lisa Schlichtman