Mary Belle Leach named Groesbeck Study Club’s Woman of the Year
As presented by June Wietzikoski at the Groesbeck Chamber of Commerce Banquet; Thursday, January 18, 2018.
Mary Belle was born on May 8, 1946, in El Dorado, Kansas to two adoring and gentle parents, James and Eleanor Doty. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a principal. James and Eleanor realized early on that Mary Belle had a special gift of music. Every day they looked forward to Mary Belle’s performances on the piano. She started playing the piano at the age of 4. By the time she was 10 years old, she was playing every Sunday for a church in El Dorado.
While at El Dorado High School, she was on several committees such as student council, cheer squad, and also played the saxophone in the school band. During her free time, she would teach piano lessons.
Following graduation, Mary Belle attended Wichita State University majoring in music. Her senior year she was chosen as the outstanding student in the school of music. During her senior year, she also wrote a musical named Echo from Two Rivers. The musical was used to dedicate the Butler County Junior College Auditorium in El Dorado.
While in college she met her husband of 50 years, Joe Leach. They married on June 1st, 1968. Mary Belle taught for two years at a split campus school. She did not have a classroom of her own, but only a cart to push from room to room. At Lawrence Elementary school she taught 1st-6th graders, and she did a lot of echo and rhythm. She would then travel across the campus to Mayberry Junior High where she taught 7th, 8th, and 9th graders acapella songs. In 1970, they packed up and moved to Houston, Texas. Mary Belle continued her love of music and taught in the Cypress Fairbanks district for 10 years. She was THRILLED to have her own classroom. She started piano labs which allowed each child to further develop their learning of sheet music and composition. While in the Cypress Fairbanks education system, she was selected as Outstanding Teacher as well as her many choirs winning superior marks at contests. During her free time, she played professionally in a variety of venues such as weddings, galas, and churches.
On April 12, 1981, they welcomed a wonderful daughter into the world, Meredith Doty Leach. Mary Belle enjoyed getting to be home with Meredith during her early years of life. During this period Mary Belle also was the pianist at Chaplewood United Methodist Church. While there she organized a youth choir program, which hundreds of children participated in. She also accompanied the Chancel choir each Sunday. Mary Belle resumed her teaching career at River Oaks Baptist School where Meredith attended. During her 25 years at River Oaks Baptist, she started the annual talent show as well as show choir and singers. While organizing a closet she discovered cases of unused handbells. She went to the church and asked permission to use them in her classroom. This was an exciting addition to her music curriculum. Mary Belle found out that Mr. Baker had donated them to the church, and she invited him to all of the chapel services where the students played the bells. He was overjoyed to see the handbells being used as well as the joy the bells brought her students. Mary Belle was good at allowing students to find what their passion was, whether it be the piano or drums or any other musical instrument. She also opened their eyes to creativity in the arts. Mary Belle co-authored a sight-reading musical textbook used throughout the United States to help students. Overall, Mary Belle taught a total of 37 years.
The Leach family is from Limestone County and once she retired, they moved back to Joe’s roots. She immediately joined all the clubs in town as well as found a church! She has been the past president of the First United Methodist Women, social chair of study club, and a member of the garden club. Mary Belle has also been the past chair of church council as well as the Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church. She is constantly busy and cherishes the many friendships she has made. Mary Belle has been a blessing to so many.