Mary was born in Eagle Grove Iowa on February 12, 1926 to Aurthur and Lorene Parsons. Mary was the middle child to older brother, Walter B. Parsons, and her little sister, Patricia A. Parsons (Light).
At age two Mary officially began her musical career, when she sang a lovely soprano solo at the Congregational Church in Eagle Grove. She had already begun to learn piano from her mother and went on to study violin, piano, and voice across her lifetime, performing at every opportunity. When Mary was in high school she and four of her dearest friends formed a private glee club called “The Boovers”. “Boover”meaning unbranded Heifer; Mary’s lively spirit and wholesome sense of humor shone well into her final days.
The Boovers sang wonderful, complex harmonies and were hired to perform at community events in and around Eagle Grove for many years to come, and Mary was frequently hired as a soloist and accompanist for weddings and funerals. Upon High school graduation, Mary attended Grinnell College, where she continued her musical career and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She spent her college summers working at Interlochen Fine Arts camp, teaching private lessons, and one summer as a line worker in a Hemp plant. Mary moved to Michigan for her graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Vocal Music.
After Graduating, Mary was hired as a music and choir teacher at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, where she met her husband, Charley. Charley was the Roosevelt speech and drama coach, and invited Mary to collaborate with him on a musical production; there was love in the air, and bells would be ringing. The two were married in 1952, and were instrumental in starting the community theater group “The Wyandotte Players”.
Mary took a break from teaching school to have a family, and eldest son James S. Burkett was born in 1954. Daniel P. Burkett (1956), Thomas M. Burkett (1958) and Martha D. Burkett (1960) followed in short succession. During these years Mary continued to sing in church choir, was active in PEO and the PTA, and performed at weddings and funerals. In 1960 Mary moved with her family to Paw Paw, where Charley had landed a teaching job. Her gusto was awe inspiring. The couple purchased a wooded parcel of property in Waverly Township, complete with a private lake for swimming and fishing. This is where they built their home and raised a family. Mary and Charley loved beauty in all forms, and passed this appreciation to their children and grandchildren.
The family joined the first Presbyterian Church in Paw Paw, where Mary was embraced as a soloist in the church choir, and eventually became the Choir director. She enthusiastically poured herself into this role for nearly 40 years. She began teaching private voice and piano lessons in Paw Paw in 1966, and continued teaching private lessons until 2014.
She also taught elementary music at Hartford for a brief time, and was hired full time to teach at cedar Street and Black River Elementary schools. She taught in Paw Paw for over 30 years, teaching outside the prescribed curriculum and introducing music through drama in plays that she co-wrote with her students. She was a devoted mentor who encouraged myriad young souls, regardless of their innate talent or lack thereof. She believed that music and art were for everyone. Mary loved teaching and adored her students.
In the late 1960’s Mary and Charley led a group to start The Paw Paw Village Players, and later purchased the Playhouse that continues to house many of the players productions. The first production of the Village Player’s was The Music Man. Charley directed and starred as Harold Hill, and Mary starred as Marian the Librarian. Mary was particularly fond of the score to “The Music Man”, and loved to reminisce about that time in her life. Mary was in charge of costuming for the Village Players, and performed in many productions. One of her favorites was “Amahl and the Night Visitors”.
Mary’s final years were spent at Maple Lake Assisted Living, where her star continued to shine. She regaled residents and staff with her poetry, (some of which has been published) stories, and song every chance she got. She played the piano and sang most days before lunch and dinner, and spent hours writing down playlists for her performances.
Mary had music in her heart. She was prone to burst in to song mid- sentence, and had a remarkable memory for melodies lyrics, names, and faces. Her four children agree that a favorite childhood memory was having Mary sing them off to sleep at night. She was a leader: a talented musician, successful career woman, poet, doting mentor, wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, Grandmother, friend, and generous benefactor. Her light in the world is vast and eternal.
Mary is survived by her four children: James (Mara) Burkett, Daniel Burkett, Thomas (KellyLee Hallam) Burkett and Martha Burkett, grandchildren, Maxwell Burkett, Gabriel Burkett, Nathaniel Burkett, Carson Burkett, Marian Misterovich, Elise Burkett, Blake Burkett, Tara Marie Burkett and Luke Kula, along with six great grandchildren.
The family will receive friends Friday, August 30, 2019 beginning at 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the Adams Funeral Home, 502 West Michigan Ave., Paw Paw. A memorial service will follow on Saturday, August 31, 2019 beginning at 11:00 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 120 Pine Street, Paw Paw, with Rev. Tiffany McCafferty officiating. A time of food and fellowship will follow at the church. Memorial Donations in Mary Burkett’s honor should be made to The Paw Paw Village Players, P.O. Box 22, Paw Paw, MI 49079.
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