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Choir director offers a ‘listening ear’

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Mary Gonzalez stepped up to sing the “The Star-Spangled Banner “at WESST’s (Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team) Go! Latinas event in August. Gonzalez talks about her passion for music, her family and her church in this week’s Sunday Spotlight. (Alison Penn Photo)
Mary Gonzalez, choir director at Goddard High School and Berrendo Middle School, said she is often complimented about her smile. She said smiling is another thing people associate with her, along with her passion for music. (Alison Penn Photo)

A familiar voice to many, Mary Gonzalez is a well-known singer and pianist.

At the start of her career, Gonzalez was employed by the Roswell Independent School District for 27 and a half years before she went into retirement.

She taught academics and music to elementary students and later became the choir director at Roswell High School. After only one year of retirement, Gonzalez returned to the workforce to be the choir director at Goddard High School and Berrendo Middle School, and she has been in this position for six years. She graduated from Goddard in 1973.

“That’s my passion — I have a heart for these kids,” Gonzalez said. “Some of these kids have so much baggage, I mean, they are going through so much. And us as teachers, we just have to be there for these kids. We have to be there to listen to them and just support them and do what we can to help them out. It’s getting tough now, but just to be a listening ear because that is what they are wanting. They want somebody to listen to them. Somebody to hear what they’re going through. You can’t necessarily give so much advice, but just let them know that you’re there for them. …”

October is a busy month for Gonzalez and her students. They had Solo & Ensemble on Thursday in Portales and of the 19 entries — her students received nine superior ratings and 10 excellent ratings. On Oct. 15, they will also have auditions for All-State Choir. She has fond memories of taking her students for competitions to Texas, Colorado and California.

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When her students thank her for being in their lives and teaching them music and life skills, Gonzalez feels rewarded. She taught some of her students as elementary students and then later taught them in high school.

Recently, one of her students asked Gonzalez to sing at his wedding and another student thanked Gonzalez for her “strictness and rules” that have prepared him as he heads to boot camp for the Marines.

Her own start in music began at her father’s church, Spanish Calvary Baptist, where he wanted her to eventually be the church pianist. At 9 years old, she could only play two hymns and the congregation was limited to singing only those two songs.

To motivate her to continue practicing piano at the church, Gonzalez’s father promised his daughter her own piano to have at home — on the condition that she learn all the hymns in the book.

“So it didn’t take me long to learn the hymns,” Gonzalez laughed. “And I don’t think he thought I would do that, and so I did. I got my piano. I got my first Spinet piano. …”

Also at this church, she met the love of her life, David Gonzalez, known as the “Golden Voice” as a broadcaster, and they were married for 40 years and were active community members. David passed away exactly five months ago and Mary Gonzalez is taking it day by day to move forward, while still feeling his love and encouragement to persevere.

Gonzalez has two children, Omar and Angelica, five granddaughters, one great-granddaughter and two great-grandsons on the way.

Gonzalez recognized being a part of David’s family as an “honor,” and many of them were also educators. Gonzalez said the family is planning to host the first-ever “David Gonzalez Memorial Run” on Nov. 23 to raise awareness about heart health, since David passed away after a heart attack.

Gonzalez said her husband’s catchphrase with her was: “Honey, you can do this. We can do this.”

Recalling several instances when David would utter these words to her, Gonzalez reminisced about when David encouraged her to do her first recording in 1985. She said he was her manager, sound guy and biggest fan and would also help with her RHS choir.

“God is a big part of my life and my church is a big part of my life,” Gonzalez said. “And so, when I did this recording, I did one side in English and one side in Spanish so that I could meet both cultures. …”

Her second recording was about two years ago. That was a selection of hymns dedicated to her father who recently passed away. Gonzalez continues to lead worship at Bethel Baptist Church. She also leads a choir there and is preparing them for their Christmas Cantata from Dec. 13-15 and another Easter Cantata for the spring.

“… As far as my church, I will always continue to do that,” Gonzalez said about leading music on Sundays. “That brings me my comfort and my joy — and I will continue with going forward with my music. As long as God gives me the talent and the voice, I will continue to use that for him.”

Julie Seiler and Mayrene Ashcraft both described Gonzalez as a “blessing to Roswell.” Ashcraft has known Gonzalez for five years and said she is “dearly loved by the choir and church members.”

A colleague and friend, Seiler has known Gonzalez for 25 years and Gonzalez was her daughter’s teacher. Seiler said Gonzalez was an “excellent” teacher, shared her musical talents and went “above and beyond” for the staff and students at Valley View Elementary School.

“She’s the most caring, loving, giving person and she has a heart of gold,” Seiler said of Gonzalez. “She’s a real people person. She is a real inspiration.”

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.