Myers life celebrated as masterpiece (5/21/09)

May 21, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Laughter, tears and musical tributes filled Williston Central School Saturday afternoon as the community came together to remember and celebrate the life of longtime teacher Al Myers.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks presents a scrapbook to the Myers family with memories, writing and artwork from students and faculty.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
The Champlain Valley Reenactors give a traditional Civil War multi-gun salute at the end of the ceremony.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Meredith Gordon, Myers’ youngest daughter, offers a few opening remarks.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Members of the Lyric Theatre Company pop open umbrellas during a rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain.’


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Lyric Theatre Company Executive Director Syndi Zook dons a Groucho Marx mask alongside Myers’ wife, Deborah Hardy.

More than 700 community members and friends of Myers filled the school’s auditorium and the new gym. Those who attended were treated to musical performances from current and former students of Williston Central, as well as a singalong with members of the Lyric Theatre Company. Family members and friends of Myers remembered their friend with speeches of praise. And the University of Vermont honored Myers’ life with the creation of a new award.

“I know today is a celebration, and we’re going to laugh a little, we’re going to smile a little and we’re going to cry a little in the celebration,” said Bishop Britt Cummings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Myers passed away unexpectedly on April 25 after falling from a ladder in the Williston Central School auditorium while working on the set of the school play, “The Wizard of Oz.” He had been a teacher at the school for more than 30 years.

For those who attended, it was an “amazing ceremony” that honored a man who gave so much, said Andy Gordon, Myers’ son-in-law.

“I thought it was a very fitting tribute for someone who spent his whole life working for everybody,” Gordon said. “He would’ve been honored to see everyone here.”

The celebration took place in the auditorium and gym. Members of Lyric Theatre’s technical crew set up a live video feed between the locations, so all in attendance would be able to witness every tribute.

The Champlain Valley Reenactors, a group of Civil War enthusiasts that Myers captained, also honored their former leader by performing a drill for the audience. The reenactors culminated Saturday’s event with a multi-gun salute outside Williston Central School.

Myer’s youngest daughter, Meredith Gordon, spoke first. Honoring her father’s love of comedy, Gordon recited several famous quotes from the Marx Brothers and Monty Python in a humorous, deadpan fashion. Gordon also graciously thanked those gathered for their support over the past several weeks.

“You were all my dad’s extended family,” Gordon said.

A video tribute followed that featured family photos of Myers and a film of Myers during Civil War reenactments and directing his colleagues at Lyric Theatre. Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” played in the background, and the video was interspersed with cuts from the Marx Brothers’ classic comedy “Animal Crackers.”

Bishop Cummings also had many members of the audience laughing with his stories of Myers leading church youth groups on snowshoe hikes of Mount Mansfield and canoe trips on the Winooski River. Cummings also said Myers’ love of family, of his church and of God allowed his life to reflect a multifaceted work of art.

“He allowed the master artist to paint his life, and to paint a masterpiece,” Cummings said.

The executive director of Lyric Theatre, Syndi Zook, also remembered Myers with funny stories of his thespian days. She praised his family for the time Myers gave to the theater group, helping make Lyric Theatre what it is today.

“It doesn’t even begin to reflect the impact he had on the group,” Zook said.

Zook also led both the auditorium and gym audiences on singalongs of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tomorrow” from the play “Annie.” Members of Lyric Theatre spontaneously opened umbrellas from their seats and led the audience in the first song.

Music featured prominently throughout Saturday afternoon. Performances included the Beatles’ “Let It Be” sung by the newly formed Williston Central School Faculty Choir. Three of Myers’ Swift House students — Michelle and Mahoganie LaStrada and Jewel Sedgebeer — sang an original song in their teacher’s memory, “The Voice Within,” written by Michelle LaStrada. Williston resident Anne Cameron also sang an original song called the “The Man Behind the Curtain,” which she said she wrote three days after Myers’ death.

The biggest round of applause came for the chorus of “The Wizard of Oz.” The students sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in front of the play’s set, which Myers’ designed last month.

Other tributes to Myers included Rep. Katie Webb of Shelburne presenting the school with a Vermont Legislature resolution honoring Myers’ life. Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney read a letter of praise from Sen. Patrick Leahy honoring Myers, which the senator entered into the U.S. Congressional record.

UVM Professor Jacqui Gale announced the university would create a new award, given to an “exemplary” student studying in the middle-level teaching program. Gale said the award, known as the Al Myers Excellence in Teaching Award, would be given every year in late April.

The ceremony concluded with a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” performed by Bill Kirkpatrick, followed by the reenactors marching out of the auditorium. It was a quiet ending to what reenactor Mike Frisbie called a “perfect ceremony.”

“It was just wonderful,” Frisbie said. “We were laughing and crying and everything in between.”