The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Myrtle Gates


September 12, 2017

Sept. 15, 1910 - Aug. 15, 2017

Beloved former Sweet Home High music teacher, Myrtle Gates, age 106, passed away on Aug. 15, 2017, in Reston, Va.

Myrtle Rose Gates was born on Sept. 15, 1910 to Charles and Rose Letts in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The family moved to Laurel, Miss., in 1916. In 1933 she graduated from Mississippi State College for Women with a degree in Voice.

She returned to Laurel, taught school and directed choirs at The First Baptist Church.

In 1937 she married J. Lewis Gates. He passed away in 1949. They had two daughters, Margaret Rose (SHUHS ’59) and Jessie Louise, who died in infancy.

In 1951 Myrtle moved to Sweet Home with her parents.

She spent the next 25 years teaching music in the Sweet Home schools. She started the original tradition of the Singing Christmas Tree in 1953.

Beside her popular choral classes, she had many small ensembles, among them the Madrigals in Renaissance costumes, and a boys’ barbershop quartet, with straw hats and red bow ties.

Her special groups were called on to entertain social clubs’ meetings in town.

She took her choirs to state contests where they always received superior ratings.

Sweet Home Union High School students were regularly chosen for All-Northwest Chorus each year.

Myrtle expanded music into all the elementary schools, with all fourth-grade children playing recorders from books that she wrote herself. Foster Elementary had a performing recorder consort, (bass, tenor, alto and soprano recorders).

During the final years of her career, she served as the music coordinator for all the Sweet Home schools.

She directed many of the summer Chips ’n’ Splinters variety shows, and was the choir director at the Community Church, Methodist for many years.

In 1955, she earned her master of music degree from the University of Oregon. She gave presentations to music conferences throughout the state.

She was chosen the Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 1960.

The whole town looked forward to the wonderful concerts, musicals, and programs she presented each year. She loved Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and produced five of the shows, including “The Mikado,” “Pirates of Penzance” and “HMS Pinafore.”

The school superintendent once drove to Salem, picked up a new state wrestling champ, who was also the lead singer for “Penzance,” and got him back to SHUHS in costume, ready to perform as soon as he arrived home.

That was loyalty.

Myrtle retired in 1976, traveled, adored her grandchildren, and gave more service to her church.

In 2001 she moved to Virginia to be near her daughter.

She loved her Lord, loved her students, loved teaching and believed that music touched the soul and made each student a better person for life.

She kept this quote on her desk: “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy, but most importantly music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” – Plato.

She is survived by Margaret and Frank Donivan, granddaughters Laura (Michael) Clark and Erin (Ben) Roundtree and great-granddaughters Elise and Emily Roundtree.

She was laid to eternal rest in Laurel, Miss., on Aug. 25, 2017.


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