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Melissa Straw

     Melissa was an idealistic spirit, a compassionate teacher, a dynamic presence. She was a loving mother, spouse, daughter, and sister, an engaging personality, and a fiercely passionate educator. She had a photographic memory, a colorful sense of humor, and a provocative intellect. She was politically progressive, a collaborative colleague, a good friend, a gourmet, an aesthete, an advocate of animal rights and human rights, and a spiritual, magnanimous, diverse, creative, musical, and artistic person. She is sadly missed by many, but has left a trove of examples and memories from which a better society can be built.

     Melissa was born March 8, 1970 the youngest of five children to C.R. Bob Lock and Shirley Wilson Lock. Bob and his oldest brother, Herb, founded the Lock Steel Building Co. They also made wine for over 60 years. He sang hundreds of songs and played harmonica. Shirley was the church organist. Almost every day they walked to the town library to check out more books. Shirley died when Melissa was 11. She enjoyed riding her pony and fishing with her father and brother. Melissa made money by raising calves to sell and driving tractors for area farmers. She was active in school band and chorus. Both high school music teachers, Ron Schuler and Helen Lee Woodward profoundly affected her life. When she was only 15 she became the choir director at the family church. She went on to become a member of the Missouri All State Chorus and after graduation sang with a national chorus on a European tour. She played softball and golf, and graduated 3rd in her senior class. She turned down acceptance at Brown to attend Mizzou. At the University of Missouri, Melissa became a music education major graduating summa cum laude and as an honors scholar with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. She also achieved a Master’s degree and more than 40 postgraduate hours. She studied singing with Harry Morrison and was a member of the University Singers.

     As a college freshman in University Singers, Melissa met Michael Straw, a doctoral student. After dating for almost 4 years, she proposed in the sculpture garden of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in KC. They were together for almost 30 years. Their children Matthew, 20, is a junior Music and Philosophy major at the Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, and Margaret, 18, is a freshman studying English and Cultural Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Melissa began her teaching career in Ashland in 1992 as a music specialist for kindergarten through high school. She came to Columbia in 1995 as part of a team to open Smithton Middle School. There she developed a successful program teaching general music and chorus, serving as Chair of the Multicultural Committee and was the Middle Level Music Curriculum Coordinator. Melissa was strongly supported by Doctors Marjorie Spaedy, Wanda Brown, Jack Jensen and a host of colleagues. During this time she also served as mentor teacher for 16 student-teachers and new music educators and hosted more than 50 pre-service educators in her classroom. Melissa’s General Music classroom was her stage. In this setting she practiced the true goal of education in its simplest form: to help students enjoy learning. When students entered her classroom, something was different. This was “Mrs. Straw’s world” and things were better in her world. She used her wit and intellect to create an environment of respect, generosity, and happiness where intellectual curiosity and wonder were the norm.

     A highlight of her career occurred in 2003 when the Smithton Chorus was selected to sing for the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference. Her non-auditioned chorus sang for over 700 colleagues who jumped to their feet following the performance. Melissa was an advocate of quality choral music in which the music and the texts were of great importance. Music was more than entertainment. She empowered children to sing building upon their natural abilities. Her skill took students from where they were and moved them upward. In this regard, she was like the famous music pedagogue, Shinichi Suzuki, who believed every child could learn.

     Melissa had many opportunities to serve and lead which she enjoyed tremendously. She was the Choral and Handbell Director for First Christian Church for 12 years; the Vice-President of General Music for the Missouri Music Educators Association in 1999; a Keynote Speaker for MMEA New Teacher Workshops for 5 years; and in 2005 the Chair of Repertoire and Standards for the Missouri American Choral Directors Association. In these situations she wrote articles, coordinated convention speakers and clinicians, directed rehearsals, presented motivational speeches, and supervised state auditions. She was also a seminar leader for the University’s College of Education, mentoring teachers during their student teaching semester through weekly seminars on curriculum and instruction. She directed the Fifth Grade Honors Chorus for 2 years. They too were selected to perform at the annual convention of the MMEA. In 2015 she was asked to direct a corporate chorus for Veterans United which she did for 2 years. She also served as a guest clinician and conductor for many choral events around the state.

     A position Melissa valued highly was as the Conductor of the Children’s Chorus for the Missouri Symphony Society which she did for more than 12 years. Her chorus won many awards, but the act of working together to create something of beauty and growing sensitive, passionate young children who would build a healthy society was most important!

     Melissa’s is survived by her parents, Bob and Mary Lock of Carrollton; sisters Teresa (George) Henke of New Mexico, Beth (Ian) Lock of Utah, Jane (Rich) Ramsey of Ohio; brother, Joe (Cherri) Lock of Iowa; three step-brothers, Chuck Witthaus of Colorado, Jim (Marlene) Witthaus of Kansas, Bill (Christine) Witthaus of Arizona; step-sister, Karen (Tim) O’Brien of Colorado; and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. Melissa was the youngest of 61 Lock family first cousins.

     Maestra, Melissa Straw, used this mantra in class and rehearsal every day: “Say something nice to someone. Do something nice for someone. Live in harmony with the world!” May it be so!

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