The Early Years at St. Marys

NOTES DA CAPO - By John L. Puffenbarger
April/May, 1990

In 1918 Miss Marguerite Conner organized the first glee club, comprised entirely of girls, at St. Marys High School, while the first boys' glee club was organized in 1921. Music prospered in the school, and in the spring of 1922 the students presented their first operetta, The Gypsy Rover. However, it was not until 1930 that the first concert was held with Mrs. Olla Walton serving as director.

The high school band was organized in 1928 under the leadership of George Dietz, while three years later W.C. Paff became the director and organized a senior and junior band as well as a school orchestra. The music program at St. Marys High School continued to grow until by the end of the 1940s the band, orchestra, and chorus were all enjoying great success.

In 1948 Lucile Keith VanValey directed the choir and the accompanist was Marguerite Strope Cormany. Mrs. VanValey was an excellent choral director as well as an accomplished violinist. That year the glee club had sixty-four members. At this same time the band and orchestra were directed by John D. Brisbane. The band had about eighty and the orchestra around fifty members.

However, a problem did exist. The stage in the school auditorium was not large enough to accommodate the increased size of the groups, so at this time the Christmas concert was moved into the Main Theater across from the railway depot in downtown St. Marys. At the first concert the mixed chorus formed the outline of a Christmas tree, with one person on top as the "star."

Since the Main Theater proved suitable for such programs, the annual spring concerts were also moved from the school to the theater. The stage was large enough for each of the performing groups, and the auditorium could easily seat the audience. About this time the band was also able to obtain new uniforms.

A few years later a new auditorium was built at the high school, and the Main Theater subsequently became a store. Lucilel VanValey passed away during this past summer of 1989, while Mr. Brisbane later worked with the admissions department at West Virginia University until his retirement. He now lives in Morgantown.

(Mrs. David H. Delong of St. Marys supplied information for this article.)