Sparking Music in Young Minds for 40+ Years

As amazing as it is that Aletha McKennon is the longest-serving teacher currently working at Newberg-Dundee Public Schools, it is, by far, not the most interesting thing about this amazing educator. 

Beginning at Newberg-Dundee in 1981, she spent a year in a split position at Ewing Young and Newberg High School before shifting over to Mabel Rush, where she has been the Music Teacher for 42 years. In fact, that is where she plans to stay until her retirement, which she plans to take in about two years (or more). As amazing as her devotion to her school is, what is even more impressive is McKennon’s musical talent, her heart for her family, and her gift for teaching. 

“I don’t see this as a job,” she says. “I see this as a spark starter. I get to develop that spark in kids. This is an opportunity to expose kids to music. I want them to see that it can be a part of their world.”

Her Music

McKennon not only teaches music; she has been making music since she was a child. Her voice is a lovely soprano, honed by her years performing with her parents and three siblings as the Zeller Family Singers. The group performed as part of the childcare ministry for World Vision International, a humanitarian aid organization.  She can play harp and piano well and is well-versed in the flute, ukulele, and guitar. In her spare time, McKennon and her sister create and sell ocarinas, small wind instruments. She’s published books on music, including Whokulele? YOUkulele! Ukulele Made Easy - Book 1 and Book 2 (find both on the Peripole website), which she co-wrote with her sister and son. She plans to write many more, especially upon retiring, and she will always be making music.

“Music is an adventure; that’s one of the things I always say,” McKennon notes.

Her Teaching

When it comes to teaching, her work is built on a solid educational foundation. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from George Fox University and her Master of Arts in Music Education from Lewis & Clark College.


“Mrs. McKennon's commitment to Mabel Rush, to music education, and to her students is a testament to her professionalism and passion for teaching,” Mabel Rush Principal Tim Lauer says. “Her enduring dedication has made a significant impact in our community, shaping young minds and fostering a lifelong love for music in her students."


Mabel Rush Teacher Kris Bower agrees that McKennon is a standout teacher.


"Aletha is an amazing creative talent," said Bower, who has taught at Mabel Rush since 1991. "She has written her own programs for the students to perform for many years. She often will talk with teachers and use their ideas of topics that we study as the building blocks for her work. This allows students to understand topics and memorize facts more easily as they are put to music."


Bower was also impressed that McKennon and her sister had created her own music curriculum for Ukelele and Ocarina.
McKennon's "Art has graced our Mabel Rush hallways for many years, as she has worked with different grade-levels to tie artistic talent and music together," Bower said. "She always sees the best in every child and works to bring their talents and personalities out. Sometimes she believes in children more than they believe in themselves, but her belief allows them to gain confidence and understand that with practice and hard work, they can achieve their musical goals. That confidence often carries over in other areas of their lives. Time and time again I have seen children who are a bit shy or don't fit into the mold flourish because of her tutelage. She is a master teacher who knows just how to bring out the best in all of us."


Mabel Rush students, including second-graders Karlie Fittinger and Hadlee Curl, visit McKennon’s music room twice a week, and they love the time they spend with this master teacher.


“It’s amazing because she’s been here over 40 years,” Karlie explains. “She likes to teach the kids. That’s her job. She likes making people happy with music.”


Hadlee says that McKennon taught her that music can be made not only with instruments or your voice but with anything, even by clapping hands and stomping feet. McKennon also helped her see that music is joy.


“It’s got to stay fun,” Hadlee says. “It’s a good thing.”

Her Family

During most of her past four decades as a teacher helping students find their musical spark, McKennon was also raising four children with her husband (and now they have three grandchildren). McKennon has stayed in this town since coming to George Fox for college, and her children all grew up in town, attending Newberg-Dundee Public Schools.


However, she mostly grew up in Milwaukee, Oregon, attending Rex Putnam High School with her three siblings. Her parents supported her interest in education and, in fact, shared that interest. Her father was a teacher, and when McKennon went to college, her mother joined her and graduated with a teaching degree a year after she did.


Now, after more than 40 years of sharing her love of music, her gift with music, her ability to teach music, the gentle song of McKennon’s teaching career is nearing its outro, or conclusion. But not quite yet.


“I need to go when I know I’m done, when I know I’ve done enough here,” McKennon says. “I want to end on a high note.”




  • Portrait of Mrs. McKennon: She is standing outside of her classroom near a stuffed lion, the Mabel Rush mascot.
  • Photo of Mrs. McKennon with young boy: Mabel Rush second-grader Andre Cruz learns how to read music with support from Teacher Aletha McKennon.
  • Photo of girl in maroon shirt: Music Teacher Aletha McKennon takes a moment to pose for a photo with one of her students, second-grader Karlie Fittinger.
  • Photo of girl in orange hoodie: Music Teacher Aletha McKennon takes a picture with second-grader Hadlee Curl.
  • Photo of hands: Mabel Rush Elementary Music Teacher teaches a student how to use a kalimba, an instrument that is traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe.