The legacy of music heard for more than three decades in the halls of Newton High School will come to an end this summer as Keith and Donna Woolery retire from teaching.
Newton High School is where the couple first met — he was 17 and she was 15 when they started playing together in what was then called "stage band."
"Of course, my parents didn't want me dating that young, but we did anyway," Donna Woolery said.
Both went on to earn music education degrees from Emporia State University.
"After Emporia, we went on the road — we had our own band," Donna Woolery said.
Over the next 10 years, the Woolerys teamed up with other musicians, touring through 39 states and Canada.
"It's a hard lifestyle; you have to have high moral standards," Donna Woolery said. "But it was really fun."
Deciding they wanted to settle down and raise a family, the Woolerys returned to Newton. Keith Woolery began working for his father as an electrical contractor, but both knew teaching music was what they really wanted to do.
"We never thought we'd get a job in the same town, ever," Donna Woolery said.
The Woolerys were both certified to teach K-12 in vocal and instrumental music, and when a position opened up at Newton High School, Keith Woolery applied.
Donna Woolery worked as a substitute teacher and taught at St. Mary Catholic School, then applied for the vocal music teaching job that opened at NHS a few months after Keith Woolery started teaching there.
"He started the year before I did," Donna Woolery said.
"So I got first choice," Keith Woolery said with a smile.
The Woolerys were concerned about whether the school would allowed a married couple to work together.
"They'd never done that; they'd never done it in the same building or the same department," Donna Woolery said.
One of the questions Donna Woolery remembers the school board asking her when she interviewed was whether she or her husband would influence a child's decision to pick band or choir, to which she firmly answered, "of course not."
"It was nerve-wracking," Donna Woolery said.
For 34 years, Keith Woolery taught drumline, band, orchestra, jazz bands and marching band, not only at Newton High School, but also at Santa Fe 5/6 Center, Chisholm Middle School and St. Mary Catholic School. He started the school year early by teaching in the summer, getting beginning band students up to speed on their instruments.
"I get good kids," Keith Woolery said. "There were good kids when I got here and there will be good kids when I leave."
It is the students that kept the Woolerys at Newton High School.
"It's fun. I get paid for doing something I enjoy," Keith Woolery said.
"It's not like going to work," Donna Woolery agreed.
Donna Woolery directs five choirs at Newton High School, including the Railaires.
"We've always had really supportive people around us — a supportive administration and the young folk, as I call them, that we're teaching with now," Donna Woolery said.
Both of the Woolerys admire the students' commitment to music, especially from those who also work jobs in addition to school. Donna Woolery noted that, after a concert this past week, some students stayed to rehearse for their upcoming spring break trip.
The Woolerys will direct the Railaires and Jazz Ensemble I as they go to Branson, Missouri, then to New Orleans, Louisiana, and finally to Denton, Texas, to perform.
"We're doing something I've never seen anyone else do," Keith Woolery said. "We're putting (Donna's) top vocal group and the jazz band together, performing on a tour. It gets a little tense in trying to get the sound right."
Besides teaching at NHS, the Woolerys also take on private students and Keith Woolery directs the Great Plains Jazz Orchestra.
"We had an interesting life before we started teaching," Keith Woolery said. "It was much more lucrative than teaching, being a performer, but this is more rewarding."
Several of their students have gone on to teach music at different levels.
Keith Woolery noted he has had three generations of students in his classes, while Donna Woolery has also taught children of former students.
"What's funny is that they come down and sit in the same place," Donna Woolery said.
The Woolerys plan to move to Texas to be closer to their children — both of whom are music teachers — and their grandchildren.
"Keith says we're going to be on the beach the week school starts here in August," Donna Woolery said.
"With our phones turned off," Keith Woolery added.
Keith Woolery will retire on July 1 and Donna Woolery, after 33 years of teaching, will retire on August 1.
"That's the hardest thing — to leave the students," Donna Woolery said. "We could have retired several years ago, but he kept saying, 'no, we have to wait until so-and-so graduates.'"
The Woolery's last concert, "Pops & Jazz," will be held at 7 p.m. May 12 at Newton High School.
"I don't know how I can walk out of here and say goodbye to these kids," Donna Woolery said. "I definitely don't know how (Keith) is going to do it, because he's far more emotional than I am."