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Long-time choral music director to retire

June 04, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Gerald Kowallis always figured he'd move on as choir director and chairman of the Waynesboro Area Senior High School music department long before he retired.

Then a moment came, Kowallis said.

"It was years ago, in the middle of a rehearsal. All of a sudden I realized that I loved what I was doing. You know, the kind where you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you did the right thing by staying," he said.

Now Kowallis, 65, is leaving the school and the students he has served for the last 38 years. His retirement will end a 44-year teaching career that began in a high school in Indiana County, Pa., in 1958. Six years later, he came to Waynesboro where he's been ever since.

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He was reflective Monday as he sat in the raised chair that he occupies when directing one of the four student choirs for which his school has become famous in statewide circles.

"I was here when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, through the revolution, the flower children and the drug culture of the 1960s. I was here during the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King," Kowallis said.

"It was great in the '60s because the students were different then," he said. "They were idealistic. They wanted to go into professions that served mankind. You don't always see that today. The later generations are mostly going after money."

He said while students today are generally more sophisticated than their earlier counterparts, two factors have had an immense effect on them over the years - single-parent homes and homes where both parents work.

"There was a time when both parents looked after their children to see that they were being brought up properly," he said.

At one time he directed student plays, all musicals. Later on he cut back his involvement to just doing the music for the plays.

Kowallis looks back with pride on his work with the school's student choirs.

He teaches the Tribesmen, a boys glee club, and a girls glee club, which are open to all students without auditions. Students have to try out for the mixed choir of boys and girls and for Wayneaires, the show choir. The Tribe is the biggest. Some years it has more than 100 members. So far 74 boys have signed up for it for next year.

Asked how he will feel when school starts for the fall term and he won't be there, he said, "It's like a divorce. I know it's going to be painful to give it up. I could have continued, but it would hurt just as much at the end of next year as it does now.

"Sometimes I feel I could go on, but that maybe it's better not to. Maybe it's better to go out when you're on top," Kowallis said.

"He's the best," said Tom Rocks, a retired local educator who worked with Kowallis over the years. "He's always had an outstanding chorus. He's always maintained high professional standards and he's been good to work with. He's also a good friend."

Rocks said he worked with Kowallis on at least 25 musicals in the school over the years, including Christmas programs.

How does Kowallis want to be remembered?

"I'm most proud of the fact that I achieved extraordinary results with ordinary kids," he said. "I was always able to build around a nucleus of very talented kids."

Kowallis said he has few immediate retirement plans other than to visit his children and grandchildren in California and Chicago.

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