In Memoriam
Joyce Butler

Mrs. Butler passed away on April 3, 2009.

These pictures are taken from GNYA yearbooks for the years indicated. The pictures are in chronological order. The tributes are not.

(click on images to enlarge)

Images for 1970 courtesy of Bill Hohensee.

This page was last updated on August 31, 2014
Listen to The Academy Sings for Christmas, the original White Album,  Side 1   Side 2


From Vivian Murphy Keller Broussard, '71:

Mrs. B will be forever cemented in my mind and heart as a woman of amazing energy and creativity. How did I know at my tender age of 14-18 that she was one of the most progressive and imaginative of musicians in our church school system? And yes, I took her for granted. The endless practices and tryouts, the urging on of our young voices to sing louder and reach higher. The music she picked out for us to sing in various Spring Specs, church programs, and activities STILL resounds in my head almost 40 years later. Did I say 40 years?

Can it be that long ago we sang about the "Halls of Ivy"( I still tear up remembering that song)? Some of the words I still recall are... "one day a hush will fall, the footsteps of us all, will echo down the hall and disappear . . ." Then on to the Spring Spectaculars that were a production in excess -- I had no idea these were Broadway tunes we were singing until I started watching some old movies year later. I could not believe that Mrs. B had put Broadway music into our little church school and gotten away with it. She also added a touch of choreography that may have cause a stir in some circles. All I know is that some folks would not buy tickets for the show from me because it was "too worldly." I had no idea what they meant by that because I sure had fun! Just to be paired up to sing with an older boys - like a Junior or Senior would cause me to sing my very best and fall in love for a short time like the movie stars do now and always. Mrs. B didn't care about match ups, she cared about results and could get you spinning around in circles trying to do what she asked of you. And she could talk REAL LOUD if needed, no soft spoken woman need apply for a job at GNYA! Songs like "Clang Clang Clang went the Trolly," "Surrey with the Fringe," "Spring is in the Air" ( starts out.. when I hear a Robin winging, I always feel like singing..) then on to one of my top numbers from our guys, "Man from LaMancha." Not to mention how handsome our guys looked singing their numbers--all slicked up and pumped for the song. The applause was usually deafening and school spirit soared during those events.

I don't want to forget the trips Delta Mu made to churchs on Fridays and Sabbaths and the sacred music we sang there. "The Heavens Declare the Glory of God" was a rousing number that I never ever got tired of hearing. And many, many more selection added to spread the GOOD NEWS.

Mrs. B was my piano teacher through some of my high school years. I loved her because she was usually distracted and working on set designs, costumes, layouts and other people taking lessons. She paid very little mind to what I was tickering away on and usually passed me on to the next book without a hitch. I would ask her to play the piece for me -- which she gladly did -- and then I would follow timing and rhythm by ear. I never did learn how to play the high notes or low notes for that matter and was very content to play for church or Sabbath School the rest of my life . . . very modestly. She most likely knew I was limited in talent and passed me on out of sympathy for me.

Nonetheless. Mrs. B is engraved in my heart and mind and I will never forget her. Sadly my children, though in church schools for most of their education, never did run into anyone like Mrs. B. Not one of their music teachers could even touch the hem of her garment in creativity, progressive thinking and sheer energy and love.

When I get to heaven you can forget joining Gabriel's choir-- I'm looking up Mrs. B and will be front and center singing WHATEVER She picks out, and it might not be what God had intended for us to sing, but I'm singing it anyway.

From Carol Lawson Dodge, '67:

Three short years of knowing Mrs B (1964-1967) ingrained music into my heart. She was able to get more music out of me than I ever knew I had! I went on from GNYA to take organ lessons in college then sing with the Metropolitan Chorale and a girls' sextet in the Chicago area. More recently I have digressed to playing piano for children's Sabbath School divisions & singing duets for church! What a legacy Mrs B leaves behind. I remember fondly the Spring Specs - quite the production in the NY Center downtown. Somehow I ended up with some of the sheet music we used - Climb Every Mountain & Hava Nagila - & I pull those out every so often to relish the memory. How Mrs B survived the graduation of Tonja Lyons & stooping to ask me to be one of her accompanists is beyond me. Luckily Judi Murphy was her much more accomplished choice, & with teamwork we pulled it off :o} Don't you think it was her years at GNYA that gave Mrs B the tenacity to live such a long, productive life? Praise God for her passion for music & young people!

From Melody Schlereth Dillion, '72

I loved singing in the choir for Mrs. B. She always picked songs I liked and that were fun (and sometimes challenging) to sing. We always felt so good when a song with a higher level of difficulty finally came together for us. She knew how to bring out the best in her students. Any serious singer wanted to be in Delta Mu! I also played my 1st musical instrument in the H.S. band with her - the clarinet (or should I say "squeaked"). Black skirts and white blouses were the dress code at that time. Oh the memories...God bless her for living to the ripe old age of 94!


From Randy Kane, '68:

When I was in grade school, my parents expected me to go to one of the SDA boarding schools. They thought I'd WANT to. WRONG! Why? Spring Spec and the GNYA talent shows hosted by Elder Butler had me sold on GNYA as the coolest place to be.

Not wrong! (At least compared to any SDA boarding school.)

After I got there: Did ANYone else who went to school anywhere in NYC get to have a Broadway theater to play with? Performing wasn't the what I liked the most. Running the lights, the sound, the curtains. How cool was that?

Performing mattered, also. When I was a Freshman, the choir was performing one Friday night at Spanish Intervale. NOT required, but I wanted to be there. My father "You want to go WHERE, WHEN?" But he gamely accompanied me. And SHE was delighted that the kid from Staten Island bothered to show up, and thanked me for it.

And, appreciation: For three of my four years at GNYA we had an English teacher who didn't believe in asking people to WRITE. But, SHE heard about my song parodies and asked me to write something, parody of DOWNTOWN, to be used in Spring Spec. (Didn't work out, but she asked!).

A very special lady.

From Sara Sanchez Marcellino, '70:

I worked for Mrs. B during my Junior and Senior Year (1969-1970) at GNYA. For one reason only, to be with my boyfriend, Ricky. She knew that and never said anything. She would always give me things to do that would help her all the while knowing my intentions were to just be by the "man" or "boy" I loved. (And would forever love). She took me on "road trips". She taught me to work hard, to focus and to take control of thngs to make them work. Mrs Butler was a rare christian woman during this time. A true leader, a quiet rebel and yet an example of being the best you can be for our Lord. I marvelled at the Spring Spectaculars and how she shined through out them. She was so marvelous, so wonderful, I wanted to be her. Thank you Mrs. B for blessing me with your life.

From Rick Marcellino, '70:

When you think of GNYA there are few pictures that come to the mind right away. One of my favorite memories is of Mrs. B turning to me and scolding me," to keep those boys quiet while I am going over the girls part". Then she would give that look that said all things are ok, as long as you keep quiet. She gave me more confidence in myself than any I can remember. Her warmth and dignity will always be admired. Delta Mu, Top Twenty, Boys Glee, Spring Spec. As the song says " I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don`t feel so bad. Mrs. B had a tremendous effect on all she came into contact with. As I just finish celebrating my fathers 80th b-day it reminds me of Mrs. B`s 80th B-day that my wife and I had the privelege to attend. She was loved by all.


From Anita Alverio, '67:

Wow! Talk about someone influential in our lives! Mrs. B increased my enjoyment of GNYA a hundred-fold: she was patient w/me, encouraging me to use my voice not only in readings w/Delta Mu but in actually singing (she worked after school w/me so I could "hear" the different parts in the songs, since I had no money to take music lessons to learn to read music). She gave me little solos, lotsa hugs and even helped me get travel money when Delta Mu toured. I know everyone has a different story but I think all of us who were embraced by her experience music today, in a deeper, more meaningful way because of her leadership.

(Remember when she played the marimba? She just lit up the stage as I recall.)

From Judi Murphy Nelson, '68:

I took piano lessons from her (first from Tonja "Juilliard" Lyons) probably starting '58-- rode to the NY Center every Sunday. I soon learned that Mrs. B played brilliantly and flamboyantly but didn't necessarily stick to the technical notes. Or at least that's what I remember-- and I learned her style-- flash, fire, passion, but maybe not every note on the sheet music! I took several years of lessons and usually tried to distract her by pointing out something else going on (and lessons took place in the GNYA upstairs gym where there was LOTS going on). Mrs B would play the piece, I'd memorize her 'style' and play it back while she worked on other jobs (she did so much at GNYA). I eventually got halfway good enough to accompany Delta Mu, the choir, and best of all Men's Glee, which got me out of despised P.E. and right in the middle of a group of cute boys, all watching ME-- oh, the joy. The years of playing were shared with brilliant Tonja, classy Carol Lawson, David Coleman.

From Bernie Andersen, '65-'68:

I can think of no one that musically affected my life in the way Mrs B did. It would be impossible to ever give the sufficient recognition that she deserves for how she effected the lives of students at GNYA. Every one that I was participating with in her classes began to see themselves as a musician or at least the belief that they had talent (sometimes deeply hidden) I consider myself to be one of a few privileged individuals to have been in her choirs and influenced for eternity by her and her family. And i still remember some of Elder Butlers "jokes" that he told as the emcee of Spring Spec. Thank you Randy for reminding all of us of those most important influences in our lives and the difference that she made to everyone whoever attended her classes or choirs.


From Kathy Hoar Slough, '71:

A great deal of GNYA's school spirit was bound up in the music that its students sang with gusto and bravado. This happened because of a wonderful, dedicated woman whose heart went out to inner city kids and who dared to share her view of music with students she would inspire on to greater things - Joyce Butler. We all looked forward to Spring Spectaculars, trips to music festivals, and wowing visiting speakers. I don't think any visitor who sat in Chapel and heard us sing would ever have believed the power of music she imbued in us without the experience of being there to hear it. I thank her family for sharing her all those years. Musicians are known for long lives. I am happy Mrs. Butler added to those statistics.

From Bill Hohensee, '70:

Mrs. B, a great lady. Was in choir all four years and enjoyed every year. She always got great music out of us city kids. Delta Mu was always a goal to achieve along with the top 20. Finally got into the elite my senior year. Boy's Glee - Go Tell It on the Mountain, Erie Canal, and more. Learned The Messiah my junior year and we sang it at the NY Center under her direction. There were a lot of choir songs, one - The Heavens are Telling. I missed the first alumni weekend in 1989, I think, when she lead the former choir members.

Thinking about her brings back many fond memories of Christmas programs at Jackson Heights church. Spring Specs at NY Center and the one year the Statue of Liberty fell, singing at all the churches, and the early morning practices before school started. I am convinced that because of her influence my appreciation of choir music was heighten and is one reason I am in my church choir today.

From Nury Sanchez, '68:

Joyce Butler was my SPRING SPECTACULAR.

I know, I know ... she said I couldn't sing ... but I was still in the choir. How many of you remember selling Life & Health magazines during the SUMMER months. Always respected her as well as her husband. Daughter Pat taught me the skills to become a very talented Legal Secretary as well as Marketing Representative for a Fortune 500 company. God bless her. She will be missed ...


From Carlos Huerta, '67:

When I think of her I still see that vibrant, caring women we all knew at the Academy. She helped open up my world and I really never got a chance to tell her thank you. We will miss her.

From David Coleman, '70:

I was a fan of Mrs. Joyce Butler, and the music program at GNYA, long before I ever attended GNYA . . . my sister (Naomi) started at GNYA before me and sang in the choir and Delta Mu . . . Naomi loved Mrs. Butler too.

Even though my musical odyssey formally started before GNYA, my true appreciation of diverse musical styles can be attributed to Mrs. B. Because of the musical innovation of Mrs. Butler, GNYA was the SDA version of the world renowned "High School of Music & Art."

I could go on and on about my musical days at GNYA (but I won't -- I will say that I enjoyed every minute of all four years at GNYA) . . . I do have to mention Tonya Lyons (an absolutely brilliant musician), and Judi Murphy (who provided guidance and encouragement during my early days) . . . I watched Tonya play before I attended GNYA and learned so much . . . I was the "new kid on the block" and Judi treated me wonderfully.

How many high school students can say they performed "On Broadway" or "Off Broadway"? (The New York Center) . . . Spring Spectaculars, how awesome . . . The Broadway League and the American Theater Wing forgot to present Joyce Butler with multiple "Tony Awards" for Best Director . . .

During my senior year at GNYA, I made application to Andrews University and was accepted, but Mrs. Butler strongly suggested that I attend Atlantic Union College and study with her cousin, Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse. I followed Mrs. Butler's suggestion, and my life has not been the same since.

Delta Mu, Top Twenty, GNYA Chorale, etc., I accompanied all of the groups, and had the time of my life.

Mrs. Butler introduced me to what has become one of my favorite songs, "Russian Picnic" . . . originally written for SATB and piano (brilliantly performed by Delta Mu and the Top Twenty) . . . I've since re-arranged it for orchestra and piano and played it around the world . . . people around the world love the song!

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit with Mrs. Butler in the hospital. I walked in the hospital room and Mrs. Butler recognized me immediately (I hadn't seen her since leaving GNYA -- I was humbled, blessed and astonished) . . .

Approximately a month ago, I attended Mrs. Butler's Memorial Service in Douglasville, GA. I learned so much about Mrs. Butler that I didn't know. I was honored and privileged to be one of the musical participants during the service (I was the un-official GNYA representative). I am very grateful for Mrs. Butler's influence in my life, and I hope to be one of the accompanist for her Heavenly choir. God Bless, and may the memory of Mrs. Joyce Butler live forever!




Back to GNYA Home

Valid HTML 4.01!

Disclaimer icon
This is NOT an official site of Camp Berkshire, Greater New York Academy, or the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

PLEASE NOTE: Because of spamming and robots that harvest web addresses, my former address,, is no longer active. However, you can contact me by substituting campb for ken in that address.