By Mike Pound
Keri Keckley said the key to pulling off the Sunday surprise was the deceptive minister.
Boy, if that isn’t a great opening line for a crime novel, I don’t know what is.
But in this case, the line doesn’t belong in a crime novel. It belongs in this column.
The Sunday surprise Keri was referring to began with Craig Tally. Craig is the senior minister at First Community Church in Joplin.
(In the interest of fair disclosure, I should point out that Craig also writes a religion column for this newspaper.)
Anyway, Craig is married to Anita Tally, who teachers choir and piano at Carl Junction High School. Thursday will be Anita’s final day at the school. After 18 years, she has decided to retire.
For Keri and for hundreds of others, Anita’s decision to retire was a big deal. It was so big, in fact, that they spent months planning a surprise for Anita.
On Sunday afternoon, a large group of former students, fellow music teachers, parents of former students and friends gathered inside the school district’s Jerry Stark Performing Arts Center to honor Anita.
Craig was the key to the surprise. He was asked to somehow get Anita to the center without tipping her off. Craig told Anita that he was preaching at an interfaith service at Landreth Park in Joplin that afternoon and that he thought she should go with him.
Anita said Craig pulled off the deception very well — for a while. However, he was forced to come a tad clean when she was deciding what to wear. Thinking she would be at an outdoor event and that she would be hauling around and serving beverages, Anita dressed — as she put it — “a bit rough.”
When Craig saw what she was wearing, he suggested that she might upgrade her wardrobe.
“I looked at him and said, ‘It seems like we have different visions of this afternoon,’ and he said that I was right,” Anita recalled.
When Craig drove her to Carl Junction instead of Joplin, she had another clue that something was up. Then she saw all the cars in the parking lot near the auditorium and the spot reserved for her. But she still wasn’t prepared for what happened next. As Anita and Craig went hand-in-hand into the auditorium, they were greeted by loud cheers and applause.
“How are you?” Keri asked a stunned Anita.
“I’m floored,” Anita said.
Then Keri handed Anita a box of tissues and said, “Here, you’re going to need these.”
Keri said Anita is one of those teachers who genuinely loves her job and loves seeing students succeed. Keri, whose children are former students of Anita’s, said it’s impossible to describe the impact she has made on her students.
“You can’t have a child in the music program and not see her dedication,” Keri said.
On Sunday afternoon, Anita was treated to musical performances by current and former students and several videos produced by former students who couldn’t attend. At the end of the tribute, everyone sang from Anita’s favorite musical, “Les Miserables.”
Anita said the whole thing was a bit overwhelming.
“I felt so honored,” she said. “It’s hard to give up a Sunday afternoon and to have everyone put so much effort into it. I was honored.”
A lot of people dedicate their lives to a profession and are not sure that they are making a difference. Anita — if she didn’t already know it — found out Sunday that she has, indeed, made a difference.
Keri said Anita has taught her students more than just music. She has taught them how to be complete students.
“Talk about pouring your heart into what you do,” Keri said, referring to Anita. “Any time you can recognize someone for going above and beyond, you should.”
Tuesday morning, I asked Anita about that box of tissues.
“Did you use them?”
“Yes,” Anita said quietly. “It was very special.”
DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.