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Mary McCleary

AGEHR past president, founding member, and Honorary Life member Mary Gilkeson McCleary, 97, passed away on October 15, 2017 at Elim Park in Cheshire, Connecticut.

Mary was born August 17, 1920 in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, 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, NJ, earning a Bachelor of Music in 1941. Her first position was organist-director at The Congregational Church of Naugatuck where she served over thirty 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 August 29, 1942. Mary and Mac shared forty-five wonderful years and raised four children. They enjoyed traveling throughout the US, 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, NJ,  Annie Forsythe, East Calais, VT, Charles Albert (Barbara), Ellington, and Robert Steele (Donna), Dover, PA; grandchildren Charles , Chicago, IL, William, Glastonbury, David (Britt), Watertown, MA, Robert (Stacey), Waterford, MI, Melissa, Whitman, MA, Mary (Anthony) Geraci,  Mechanicsburg, PA, Ellen Peifer,  Pt. Pleasant, NJ, and Jane (John) Mawicke, Chicago, IL; 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, October 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Alderson-Ford Funeral Home, 201 Meadow Street, Naugatuck. The funeral will be noon on Saturday, October 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 may 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 Rd., Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.  For online condolences, to share a photo or a story, please visit