By Patricia O’Dell
Margaret and Charles Athey both received scholarships to support their degrees in music education and went on to devote their careers to teaching thousands of students in choir and instrumental studies. They have recently donated $20,000 to endow a scholarship to the UMKC Conservatory in an effort to give back the opportunity that was so essential to their lives.
“We met in music class,” remembers Margaret. They were both pursuing music education degrees at Graceland College in Iowa. She played piano and bass violin. He played piano and cello.
“We were friends, really,” says Margaret. “But it turns out that friendship was a pretty good attribute for marriage.”
The couple completed their undergraduate degrees at Indiana University, where Charles also earned his master’s in music education. The Atheys eventually moved to Kansas City, Charles’s hometown. For much of his childhood, Charles traveled weekly by bus and streetcar for piano lessons at the Kansas City Conservatory, which became part of the University of Missouri system, and renamed the Conservatory of Music, in 1963. Margaret earned her master of music education there in 1970.
The couple, married 60 years, has three children, all of whom grew up immersed in music. While none of them are music teachers, they have passed on the tradition of a life filled with music. All the Athey grandchildren have taken private music lessons and participated in music ensembles.
“I was always obsessed with my work and I loved it,” says Margaret, who taught music for 36 years. “I thought teaching music was what I was put on this earth to do. I told myself every day on my way to school that what I was doing was meaningful.”
The Atheys’ commitment to musical education and the UMKC Conservatory inspired them to endow the scholarship.
“All my higher education was thanks to scholarships,” says Margaret. “It meant a lot to me. I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without them.”
Charles shares her perspective.
“I had scholarships, too,” he says. “And I was so fortunate that my cello teacher coached me at no charge for hours and hours. We want to give back.”
The Atheys have been volunteers throughout their lives. Charles was active in the Boy Scouts of America, and he still volunteers with the orchestra program at Trailridge Middle School in Lenexa. Both are active in their church’s music program and Margaret has given many years to volunteering with the adult literacy program at Johnson County Community College.
As a past president of the Women’s Committee of the Conservatory of Music and a member for 13 years, Margaret has been instrumental in the committee’s success. The Women’s Committee will match $5,000 of the gift to create the endowment.
“I treasure my work with the Women’s Committee of the Conservatory,” she says. “Their only purpose is to support music students with friendships and scholarships.”