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Morning Sun
  • Patrick's People - Music to her ears

  • Longtime Pittsburg music educator Donna Lyerla just celebrated her 80th birthday. That’s pretty good for somebody who almost didn’t make it in this world alive.

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  • Longtime Pittsburg music educator Donna Lyerla just celebrated her 80th birthday. That’s pretty good for somebody who almost didn’t make it in this world alive.
    She celebrated the occasion with a party Saturday at the First Church of the Nazarene. More than 100 friends and relatives attended.
    Lyerla was born Jan. 17, 1933, in Coffeyville, the daughter of  Ella Mae and George Henry Alderman, but it was not an easy birth and her mother was in labor for three days.
    “The doctor finally asked my father, ‘Which one do you want me to save, your wife or your child?’ and he said, ‘My wife’,” Lyerla said. “I think they were going to take me out in pieces.”
    Her aunt, Hazel Shumaker, a nurse, was present, and asked if she could try to save the baby. Obviously, she succeeded.
    Lyerla credits her parents for her lifetime involvement with music.
    “I came from a very musical family, and grew up surrounded by the swing music of the 1930s and 1940s,” she said.
    Her parents were performers in the Mark Ehart Band of Coffeyville.
    “The band would practice at our house, and I was always getting into the musicians’ things,” Lyerla said.
    She also remembers getting under her mother’s piano and pestering her when the woman was trying to master the difficult swing boogie beat of “Beat Me Daddy 8 to the Bar.”
    Her mother was entirely self-taught, but was determined that her daughter would get piano lessons whether she wanted them or not. One of her teachers was the late Markwood Holmes of the Pittsburg State University music faculty, who was internationally known as a performer and composer.
    Lyerla remembers the hard times of the Depression, from a child’s perspective.
    “My brother was born 16 months after I was, and there was no bed in our house then,” she said. “We were in a rented house, and the owner had taken back the furniture for some reason. My grandmother carried a mattress over to our house and put it on the floor, and that’s where my brother was born.”
    By the 1940s her father quit the band and started doing defense work as the United States prepared for its eventual entry into World War II.
    “We went to Alabama, Oklahoma and the Naval Shipyards at Bremerton, Washington,” Lyerla said. “I remember so vividly the blimps they would send up at night to keep the Japanese from bombing the shipyards.”
    The family traveled, following defense work, and by the time she was in the third grade, Lyerla had been in four schools.
    “I had fourth grade at Forest Park School in Pittsburg, fifth grade in Bremerton and then came back to Pittsburg and went to Horace Mann Grade School,” Lyerla said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Lyerla married Floyd B. Lyerla. He died in December, 2009. The couple had a daughter, Kellye Perkins, and adopted son Brett Lyerla.
    “First I traveled around with my parents for defense work, then I married a military man and traveled around,” she said.
    A 1950 graduate of College High School, she earned a degree in classical pipe organ, with a minor in piano from Pittsburg State University.
    Lyerla credits her PSU organ teacher, Dr. Susan Marchant, with encouraging her to become a teacher.
    “She told me that I would be a very good teacher,” Lyerla said.
    “Donna told me that the one thing she wasn’t going to be was a teacher,” said Marchant, one of the guests at her birthday party.
    Lyerla began teaching in 1979 with three students. Over the years she has taught piano, vocal music, acoustic and classical guitar and saxophone.
    In April of 2007 she and her family were honored as the Kansas Music Family of the Year by the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs. She, her husband, son Brett and grandson Brandon Lyerla presented the program for the 87th annual KFMC state convention. As a tribute to her mother, Lyerla played “Beat Me Daddy 8 to the Bar.”
    She currently teaches 37 to 40 students.
    “I thought when I turned 80 that I would feel different, but I don’t,” Lyerla said at the close of her birthday party. “I’m a child at heart and that’s not going to change. My life has been very full  and over the top.”
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