(Posted March 23, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Judging by Wavealine Kelso, one would guess a good nature is the secret to long life.
She doesn’t know a stranger, happy to chat with anyone as long as they speak loudly. (She’s hard of hearing.) She can reel off song after song on the piano, as long as someone points her fingers to middle C at the start. (She’s legally blind.) She gamely rolls with whatever challenges or opportunities come her way. (She once conducted a Mexican funeral.)
“I’ve had an interesting life. It’s a long one, you know,” she said with a chuckle during an interview a few days after her 101st birthday on March 1.
Wavealine was born to Harold and Lillian Kelso in 1919. She grew up in Sedalia and later moved with her parents to London where she has lived ever since–with the exception of four years in Texas and travel to the planet’s five largest continents.
Much of Wavealine’s globetrotting came with her work for the Church of Christ in Christian Union. Wherever she went, she did whatever was needed. Much of the time, that was teaching school. Sometimes, it was filling unexpected vacancies, including stints as a principal and, as in the case of the aforementioned funeral, as a minister of sorts.
“Whatever there was to do, you didn’t have a choice. You just did whatever was needed to be done,” she said.
In some cases, the task at hand was to provide music. Wavealine speaks fondly of her time in Texas, especially the makeshift church services her organization conducted for people who lived just across the border in Mexico. She and the minister would cart a portable organ down to the campsite where a crowd would be waiting for them.
“We didn’t have a stool for the organ, so somebody would run to get a bucket for me to sit on… I must have been a sight!” she said.
Wavealine is primarily self-taught on piano. She took a few lessons as a youngster, but those stopped when her father contracted tuberculosis and money got short.
“I played enough by ear that I got along OK,” she said.
Wavealine’s many church friends can attest to her abilities. Marlin Dowler said that when his wife and he sang duets at church, they’d rely on Wavealine to provide accompaniment. Ray Justice said all one has to do is hum a tune, and Wavealine can catch right in on piano.
Those talents came in handy during her long career as a school teacher right here in Madison County. After graduating from Sedalia High School, she taught at Danville School for nine years. She later held teaching positions at Madison Rural, Sedalia and London and filled in at several other schools. She enjoyed playing piano before and between acts of the junior and senior plays. She also taught music in all grades at the high school level.
Her career in education also included time spent teaching third and fourth grade, then fifth and sixth grade. She once taught high school Spanish when the regular Spanish teacher got fired
“I got by,” she said of that particular task.
Hester Anders was a student of Wavealine’s at Danville School. She remembers her having the right temperament for her vocation.
“She had the patience to have young kids to teach,” Anders said.
“I just liked to teach. I liked my work,” Wavealine said.
Her career, her devotion to her faith, her travel and friends–they’ve made for a full life. When asked why she never married, Wavealine laughed and said, “I didn’t have time!”
Wavealine celebrated her 101st birthday with friends, former students, and her church family at Madison Senior Living, where she lives. There were balloons, a generous spread of food, and cake. Wavealine capped off the festivities with an impromptu concert on the facility’s community room piano.
“I’ve had a fun life–a good life,” she said.