Mary Gilkeson McCleary, 97, passed away on Oct. 15, 2017 at Elim Park in Cheshire. She was born Aug. 17, 1920 in Sellersville, Pa., daughter of Adlai H. and Katharine K. Gilkeson. She was a loving and supportive wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She was an accomplished organist, pianist, and handbell musician and enjoyed a long, rich career in music ministry. Her kindness, broad smile, positive spirit and ability to see the best in everyone endeared her to all.
Mrs. McCleary graduated as valedictorian from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., earning a Bachelor of Music in 1941. Her first position was organist-director at The Congregational Church of Naugatuck where she served over 30 years. She also served in music ministry at the Congregational Church, Painesville, Ohio, the First Baptist Church, Waterbury, the United Church of Christ, Southbury, and the First Congregational Church, Watertown.
A well-known, popular composer of music for handbells, Mrs. McCleary served as president of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers. She led workshops and seminars and conducted handbell festivals in the United States, Canada and Japan. Her handbell music brought joy to people literally throughout the world. She also had served as dean of the Waterbury Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and president of the Women’s Study Club of Naugatuck.
Mary met her husband Charles David McCleary in the Congregational Church choir and they were married on Aug. 29, 1942. Mary and Mac shared 45 wonderful years and raised four children. They enjoyed traveling throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. Together, they grew bounteous crops of fruit and vegetables and her raspberry jelly was well-known.
She is survived by her children, Katharine Elizabeth (Jacobi), Little Silver, N.J., Annie Forsythe, East Calais, Vt., Charles Albert (Barbara), Ellington, and Robert Steele (Donna), Dover, Pa.; grandchildren, Charles , Chicago, Ill., William, Glastonbury, David (Britt), Watertown, Mass., Robert (Stacey), Waterford, Mich., Melissa, Whitman, Mass., Mary (Anthony) Geraci, Mechanicsburg, Pa., Ellen Peifer, Pt. Pleasant, N.J, and Jane (John) Mawicke, Chicago, Ill.; and seven great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her beloved husband in 1987 and by her son-in-law K. Edward Jacobi.
Calling hours will be Friday, Oct. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Alderson-Ford Funeral Home, 201 Meadow St., Naugatuck. The funeral will be noon on Saturday, Oct. 21 at The Congregational Church of Naugatuck. The organ prelude will start at 11:40 a.m. A reception in the Parish House will follow.
Memorial gifts made be made to The Congregational Church, 9 Division St., Naugatuck, CT 06770 or to Westminster Choir College of Rider University, c/o Karen Klim, Asst. VP of Development, 2083 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.
For online condolences, to share a photo or a story, visit www.fordfh.com.