Cynthia Louise Owen Stokes
1955 - 2016
Cynthia Stokes, a conductor and woodwind specialist, served as band director at Union College for five years, from 2008 to 2013. Just prior to directing the band full-time at UC, she enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, taught music at UCís George Stone Elementary School, maintained a private studio, and was a substitute teacher in the public school system. From the start of her career until she moved to Lincoln in 2007, Stokes was known for her success in building band programs, having taught in Missouri and Southern California.
Cynthia was born in Rushville, Nebraska, the youngest of three daughters born to Bernard Archie and Eunice Louise Yost Owen. As a very young child, the sight and sound of the high school marching band inspired her as it practiced near her home. She was fascinated with the flute and prior to getting one would play her recorder, holding it in a transverse position.
Because a flute wasn't available, she was started on a clarinet in the beginning band at the public school. She became increasingly upset over having to play an instrument she did not like and was finally allowed to switch to flute. Within a few weeks she had made enough progress to be first chair.
Owen's musical training prior to arriving at Union College in 1973, where she enrolled as a music education major, was limited, yet she was an apt student who, being aware of her needs, worked to remedy her weaknesses. By the time of her graduation in 1978, she was principal flutist in the concert bands.
She started her teaching career at Sunnydale Academy in Missouri, where she was hired on a part-time basis to direct the band and teach lessons. When her husband, Douglas Stokes, entered Loma Linda University to study medicine a year later, she was hired by Redlands Junior Academy, now Redlands Academy. After four years there, she taught contract lessons for Phillip Binkley in his band program at Loma Linda Academy for the next five years, teaching over fifty lessons a week.
When Douglas completed his study and residency, they moved to St Joseph, Missouri. While her children were infants, she started a band at the church school. In 2000 she started teaching part-time at the St. Joseph Christian School, a small nondenominational school with a high school enrollment of ninety, six of whom played instruments.
By the time she left five years later, there were bands at all levels, with fifty students in the high school band. Although nominated for teacher of the year, she could not be given the award because of her part-time status.
In 2004 the Stokeses moved to Roselle, Illinois, near Chicago. Two years later, Douglas was diagnosed with melanoma in March and died the following August. Cynthia returned to Lincoln, Nebraska, in March 2007, where she enrolled as a graduate student in music education at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and completed an M.Mus.Ed in 2011.
The Stokeses had three children, Christopher Owen, an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri; Melanie Ann (Phelen), an accomplished athlete, who is now in business; and Spenser Lewis, a talented actor who has played the lead role in every play he has been in. He is pursuing a degree in theater at UNL.
Cynthia moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the summer of 2013, where she married Larry Avery. While living there she was diagnosed with cancer.† Following a divorce in 2015, she moved to Moore, Oklahoma, where she lived with her sister until her death on July 1, 2016. A memorial service was held on August 13 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Sources: Interviews, October 2008 and May 2013; Rayleen Hansen, email, 4 July 2016; personal knowledge.
†††††† Cynthia L. Stokes died in her home July 1, 2016, surrounded by her loving children. Cynthia often said that she believed she had been given two purposes in life: to be a mother and a teacher. She was exceptional at both.
†††††† She raised strong and caring children and leaves behind a legacy as a life-changing teacher to the many students to whom she taught the love of music during her life. She is remembered by all for her compassion, kindness and willingness to put the needs of others before her own.
†††††† Cynthia was an incredibly strong woman who fought to remain with her family for as long as possible. Through all of the challenges she faced, she always kept her sense of humor and kind nature.
†††††† Cynthia is survived by her three loving children, Christopher Stokes, Melanie Stokes Thelen, Spenser Stokes, her son-in-law, David Thelen, and her beloved dog, Linus. She is joined in death by her husband, Dr. Douglas Stokes.
†††††† A celebration of life service, open to all, is planned from 5-8 p.m. on August 13 in Heartland Hall of College View Church, 4801 Prescott Ave., Lincoln, NE 68506.
Lincoln Journal Star, Jul 17, 2016