Alice Jones was there when the doors of McNary High School first opened in 1965. The school’s first choir director, and eventually the music chair, Jones left a legacy that is still seen, and heard, in the Keizer/Salem area long after she finished teaching, and will continue after her death on Dec. 4.
It was Jones and the McNary choir that were the first to perform in the Oregon Capitol Rotunda, at the invitation of then-Governor Tom McCall. It is a holiday tradition that still exists — though it currently waits for construction to finish in 2025 for the singing to return — and is an opportunity that has spread to choirs across the state.
The initial performance came from a personal invitation from McCall to Jones, as Jones said in a 2020 visit to the Keizer Heritage Center. She and the McNary choir performed the first four years before other schools were invited.
When the district was preparing to first open McNary, Jones wanted the choir director position. In a 2015 interview for Keizer’s Oral History for KeizerTV.com, Jones told the story of how she learned she would be given the position. Jones said she called Gurnee Flesher, McNary’s first principal, and asked if he had made a decision on choir director. He had, and when Jones asked who, Gurnee told her it was her.
At the time, a female director was not a common thing.
“Principals would say ‘we don’t think women can handle high school kids at all.’ They always wanted a [male] director,” Jones said in the 2020 Heritage Center interview. “He let me have it, and I had one of the winning choirs in Oregon because of that.”
Her contributions to the Keizer community did not go unnoticed over the years. In 1977, Jones was named Keizer First Citizen, one of the highest honors the city bestows on its residents.
She left a lasting impression on her students. At the recent 50th reunion for the class of 1973, Jones was the topic of many conversations, according to McNary alumni Sam Goesch.
“There’s not a student at that school that didn’t know who she was,” Goesch said.
Goesch was an orchestra kid, so while not directly under Jones’ direction in choir, he was aware of the influence she had on the department. Goesch praised Jones’ choirs, the music she wrote for the school and her expectations as an educator
“ She had very high standards, demanded a lot of kids, but nothing that they couldn’t accomplish if they put their minds and hearts to it,” Goesch said.