Cheryl Forester says a fond farewell to St. Patrick School
Cheryl Forester has a love of music that is contagious.
Students in her general music classes at St. Patrick School can’t keep from joining in when they see how much fun their teacher has singing.
And the Christmas programs she directs are so entertaining that the second through fourth-graders want to participate.
Now, after 35 years of making a joyful melody with Catholic schoolchildren, Forester is retiring.
“I just know it’s the right thing to do. I want to leave while I can still do it well,” Forester said in an interview in her classroom last week. “My heart, on the other hand, hasn’t quite caught up … I’m struggling with it, because it is something that is just a passion and a love.”
She’ll miss the children and the joy of watching them have fun with a song or learn to read music. She’ll miss the fun of creating musical programs and matching students to the various roles. And she’ll miss her fellow St. Patrick teachers, whom she describes as “a close staff, very supportive, a good community.”
The re-injury of her vocal chords last fall is what prompted Forester to retire.
The strain of preparing for the grades 2-4 Christmas program while suffering from bronchitis caused renewed trouble with vocal cord nodules that she first experienced some 20 years ago.
The treatment for nodules is vocal rest and Forester was forced to take a break from school following the program.
Prolonged overuse of vocal cords makes the nodules bigger and more taut. She’s afraid of losing her singing voice if she continues to teach.
The only way she is willing to teach is with great enthusiasm, and it involves using her voice.
“That’s why this is an exhausting job. It’s exhausting because you have to put out so much energy,” she said.
“The thing is, they know if you’re genuine … They enjoy it because I’m enjoying it. That’s why this is so hard to walk away from -- because I enjoy it. I love music. I believe that music is a part of everybody. You don’t have to sing in tune to love music. You don’t have to sing in tune to be musical.”
Forester pointed to a quote by the Spanish cellist and conductor Pabal Casals that she has under glass on her desktop: “The heart of the melody can never be put down on paper.”
“It’s something from inside,” she said. “You can learn all the notes. You can do it perfectly. But if you don’t sing it from your heart … it’s just something pretty.”
And when it comes from the heart: “It’s powerful. It’s transforming. It’s life-changing. It brings you joy.”
Music is spiritual, and that’s why teaching it at a Catholic school has been so rewarding, she added.
“Not only can I do things that are meaningful and powerful, it’s expected. It’s encouraged. It’s a school where especially songs of faith and worship are part of daily life, part of the curriculum. It’s a great place to work.
“I’ve been able to do Christmas programs that are actually about Jesus’ birth – about Christmas. … It’s not just learning music. You’re learning what the music is about, why it’s written and how it affects our lives, and how we can walk it out.”
Forester grew up on a dairy farm outside of Markesan, Wis.
Her father, Marcel Marquart, was a rare farmer with a beautiful tenor voice who enjoyed listening to classical music. He and Forester’s mother, Ardith, sang duets together in church and for weddings and funerals.
Her grandfather enjoyed singing hymns to her accompaniment on a little electric organ in the living room.
“It’s just something I’ve always loved to do. I’ve loved music ever since I could remember,” Forester said.
“When I was a little girl and they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say music teacher.”
She also benefitted from an excellent middle high and high school music teacher at the Markesan schools.
“(He) really encouraged me to stretch myself to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing, like trying out for the lead in school musicals,” she said.
Forester went on to earn a Bachelor of Music Education degree from UW-Eau Claire and moved to Hudson in 1976 when her first husband got a teaching job here.
She was working as a waitress at the Country Kitchen restaurant when the late Carl Obermueller was sent to her apartment to fix a broken toilet. During the course of their conversation, he asked if she liked her job, and she said she really wanted to be a music teacher.
Obermueller went home and told his wife, Milly, a long-time St. Patrick teacher about the conversation.
Later, when Forester was hiking in the mountains of Montana with members of the Salt Co., an ecumenical youth choir she directed, she received a message asking if she was interested in an opening at St. Patrick School.
She relayed back that she was, and Sister Julaine, then the St. Patrick principal, waited for her to return from Montana to interview her. She was hired in the late summer of 1979.
“I’ve been here when the church was over there,” Forester said, pointing in the direction of the other side of Fourth Street. “I used to do Mass over there.”
She’s taught every grade and moved from room to room over the years, but now has a designated music room with state-of-the-art technology. The designated spaces for music, art, a computer lab and a library were created as part of the last school expansion project.
“It’s been just great in these last years to have a really beautiful facility, a beautiful room,” she said.
She currently teaches general music to kindergarten through fourth-graders and also directs the sixth through eighth-grade ShamROCKS swing choir.
“It’s tons more (than singing songs),” Forester says of her classes. Students learn how to read music. They learn about dynamics and matching tones, and musical instruments and composers. In fourth grade, they learn to play a recorder.
“Hopefully, it’s fun ways to engage kids and have them learn,” she said.
“Cry for a week. Cry the day I leave,” Forester said jokingly when asked about her plans.
She’s looking forward to spending more time with her grandson, Ezekiel, and with her father, who now lives with her and her husband, Art.
Art Forester is the audio-visual technician for the Hudson School District and has the most seniority of any district employee with 40 years of experience.
Two-year-old Zeke is the son of Forester’s son Aaron Steffen and his wife, Emily, who live near Roberts. Aaron is the pastor of Hill City Church and Emily is a professional wedding photographer.
Forester’s son Jordan and his wife, Lanae, are Hudson residents.
She will continue as the music and choir director at First Baptist Church of Hudson.