BARNESVILLE - When Mary Kay Allison of Barnesville put down her clarinet and picked up a basketball as a student at Barnesville High School in the 1970s, she may have felt that was the end to her association with the band. But, more than 30 years later, Allison is still very much as a part of the school's band family.
Allison is this month's featured neighbor in the "Hey! That's My Neighbor." She was nominated by Kelly Blecher, a 1985 alum, who herself is still working to make sure members of the concert and marching bands have what they need to make beautiful music.
In her nomination, Blecher noted Allison's youngest child graduated in the 1990s from Barnesville High School but she continues to work tirelessly for the band kids.
T-L Photo/PATRICIA GRAHAM
KEEPING MEMBERS of the Barnesville High School Marching Band looking and sounding their best is a job happily taken on by this month’s spotlighted do-gooder Mary Kay Allison of Barnesville. Allison, left, continues working with the band boosters despite the fact her own children graduated years ago. Allison is joined by saxophone player Laura Winland who is a junior and in her eighth year of band and Kelly Blecher, another band booster.
"You name it and she does it," said Blecher, a former assistant band director who continues to do volunteer work for the band and work with the band boosters. Like most bands, a big portion of the bills are paid for though the efforts of the band boosters.
"There is always a small group of people who are the ones doing everything," said Blecher. "It is that way in many, many parent groups and for us, it's all Kay. She sets the bar and is always there ready willing and able to lend a hand."
Allison stated while she was once a band member she gave us music to play basketball. She noted she played basketball until graduation.
"Back then you had to choose between sports and music, I decided on basketball," she said, noting that changed once she married the late Gary Allison and their three children became involved with the band program.
"I guess I started helping the band when my kids started playing in fourth grade," said Allison, who worked at Barnesville Hospital and at a local sewing factory while raising a family. "We were involved in anything they did. For us, it was a family thing."
Allison wears many hats and is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fund raising.
Blecher stated, "About 90 percent of the band's operating costs, which includes instrument repair and any expenses for the kids, are paid for through fund raising efforts of the band boosters. No matter who is at the podium, we want to see this band succeed."
Fundraising is done continually. "We, like all bands, always need something," she said. "There is always a need for money."
Allison said she does it all - but working concessions on Friday nights is special.
"I love working the concession stands and seeing all the people," she said. "I get there about 11 a.m. and start setting things up so things go smoothly. That's a big fundraiser for us."
And money, it seems, is something the band can always use more of.
"The kids always need something," said Allison. "It's our job to see they have what they need."
The band boosters supply uniforms which constantly need repaired and upgraded and work to ensure anyone who needs an instrument has one.
"If a kid needs an instrument and wants to be in the band but their parents can't afford an instrument, we will work to make sure they get one," she said, noting sometimes it's calls to alumni band members that turn up a much needed clarinet or other instrument.
"I'll hear that someone needs an instrument and start racking my brain to see who might have one and then I just start making calls until one turns up," said Allison. "There are a lot of kids out there who could be really great in band but they need a chance and we are working to make sure they have it."
The boosters also make sure music is taken care of, camp costs are covered, campers are fed and repairs are done on instruments.
"Repairs can be costly especially when you are looking at some instruments that are 30 years old," said Allison.
Blecher agreed with Allison saying repairs are tough to keep up with.
"It's like having a 30-year-old car and someone new is driving it every year," she said. "Plus marching season is tough on them by the sheer fact of having to haul them around and in and out of buses."
Allison, a widow who has experienced some serious health problems, does not foresee a time when she'll quit the boosters.
"I really don't know what I would do without the kids. These people become like family and now I'm seeing the children of kids I knew years ago coming up through the band. This is my family," she said, noting the band even saluted her when her husband passed away as a way of honoring him for the time he spent supporting the band. "I keep saying this will be my last year or next year will be my last year. It never happens. Besides, I'm like a bad penny, I just keep turning up!"
Allison and Blecher said they hope parents will see the positive impact band can have on children and more parents and kids will get involved in the program.
"I've seen the benefits and how the kids enjoy band," said Blecher. "This is a positive experience and hopefully more people will see people like Kay and the kids in the band and want to get involved."
Allison credits her work with the band for keeping her motivated during times of illness.
"I think I would go crazy if I didn't have this to look forward to. Even my doctor credits this with keeping me healthy. This is my therapy. It keeps me from sitting around and thinking 'Poor me,'" she said.
In addition to Blecher's nomination, a caller into The Times Leader proclaimed Allison "The Mayor of Pine Lane."
The unidentified caller stated Allison can be counted to keep neighborhood kids in check.
"I love all the kids. They know me and I know them and I watch over them. That is the best part of living in a small town," she said. "The kids know my door is open and I do what I can to help them. I have looked after them when school is out and even helped with homework."
Allison said she loves being around children and making sure they are taken care of.
"This is a small community. These are all our kids and we have to watch out for them all," she said.
Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.