When 14-year-old John first met Eloise, 12, in school, she was “just a kid.”
Through their involvement in band club – he played the clarinet and saxophone, she played the piano – and a shared love for music, the two fell in love. Recently, the Leightys celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in McHenry, where they’ve lived since 1962.
After John earned his master’s degree in music from the University of Illinois in Champaign, the couple moved to McHenry, where he taught band at McHenry High School. Eloise, who has a master’s degree in education, taught fifth grade and music at Edgebrook and Landmark elementary schools. Both retired from teaching in 1986. They have two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Reporter Jane Huh visited with John and Eloise Leighty at their home to talk about their music education careers and how they’ve kept their matrimonial duet strong for 60 years.
Huh: How did you meet?
Eloise Leighty: We came from the same area and went to the same high school (Pana Township High School, near Springfield). I didn’t really like him.
I lived on a farm 7 miles out of town. We were both in dance band, and he wanted the group to rehearse at 7 in the morning, and that made me not like him even more. We eventually ended up attending Illinois Wesleyan (Bloomington) for college. ... Before you knew it, we were going to get married.
Huh: Did you have any first impressions about Eloise?
John Leighty: [He recalls getting a car ride from Eloise’s older brother one day while he was walking to school.] She was in the back seat, and her older brother was driving with a friend in the passenger side. She was a tagalong in the back seat. She was just a kid. I was 14, she was 12.
Eloise Leighty: [laughs] That made me a kid and him a grown-up.
Huh: How have you both been able to stay together since getting married in 1952?
John Leighty: Living together for 60 years, we have every pitfall that any marriage has. What has held us together is the music.
Eloise Leighty: Having a common ground, we can always rely upon another. He’s still playing. ... He needs to play. It’s good for him, health-wise and head-wise. It keeps him busy. We understand each other.
John Leighty: She’s the computer whiz, and I can water the flowers.
Eloise Leighty: When I saw my grandchildren using the computer, that’s when I started using the computer. ... On the computer, I learn so much. And I can communicate with all my family. I love it.
Huh: Do you still hear from former students?
Eloise Leighty: Oh, yes. We were at a grocery store one day and a big, grown man with tattoos on his arm started singing, “He-llo Miss-us Leigh-ty.” When I was teaching, I used to call each child by their names at the beginning of class. For example, I’d go through the classroom roster and sing, “He-llo, Ma-ry Bro-wn,” and she would have to sing back to me, “He-llo Miss-us Leigh-ty.”
I loved those kids, even the ones who were challenging. If you look for the good, you’ll find it in just about anyone. I learned that early, that you can find goodness in everybody because it’s all there.
And [John] gets lovely letters from his students.
John Leighty: Some of these kids have written telling me about “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” saying: “That reminds me of you.”
Huh: What are some things you’ve come to appreciate in one another?
Eloise Leighty: He has been so good to learn to cook. He jumped right in, and he has learned to cook. I appreciate that a lot. Since 2001, I’ve been restricted because of my back surgeries.
John Leighty: She does the income taxes. That’s very complicated, too.
Huh: Do you have any advice for younger couples and newlyweds?
Eloise Leighty: Learn to expect bumps in the road and sometimes learn to keep your mouth closed. Learn to accept the frailty of your spouse. ... It’s nice when you learn what their strong points are and can rely upon that. You appreciate them for what they do. Show that appreciation. Say you appreciate them. Say, ‘Thank you.’ It helps strengthen the bond.
John Leighty: One of you will be the CEO. One of you will play that role.
Eloise Leighty: Who’s the CEO here?
John Leighty: You are, my dear.
The Leighty lowdown
Family: Two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren
Side gigs: John led the music program and Eloise played organ at the First United Methodist Church in McHenry for 40 years. This year marks John’s 49th year playing with the Woodstock City Band. He’s also played with McHenry and Crystal Lake city bands. After retiring from teaching, John toured across the country with several dance bands.
Eloise took up painting and golf during her retirement. She regularly Skypes with her family, including her granddaughter and daughter who live in Germany.
Home away from home: The Leightys spend their winters in Sebring, Fla., where they have a condo. John also is involved with the community band in Sebring.