GREENFIELD — All it took was one influential teacher for Della Benefiel to know what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
She was in high school at the time, playing cornet in the school band.
“I had a fantastic music teacher,” she said. “It was then I decided.”
Benefiel has spent the past 44½ years passing that love of music she received as a child on to students of her own in the Greenfield-Central School Corp.
She is retiring this year from Weston and Harris elementaries, where she has been teaching kindergarten through third-graders the joy of self-expression through song.
Benefiel studied music education, specializing in vocal and French horn, at Indiana State University, where she graduated in 1968 with her bachelor’s degree and 1969 with her master’s.
She has spent her entire career in the Greenfield-Central family. Benefiel was hired by J.B. Stephens, a longtime educator who would later have an elementary school named in his honor.
She was assigned her first year to split her time between Harris and the former Riley elementary schools, where she taught for a decade until Riley closed. She would later go on to teach at Weston Elementary.
Benefiel said she has always worked to connect music to other subjects the students were learning in their classes.
When they learned a new song, they talked about what part of the world it came from and looked the location up on the map. As the students learned to read music, they incorporated their math skills.
“Music just ties in with everything they do,” she said. “There’s not much it doesn’t touch. Every time I see them, and they’ve learned something new, and you see the little bulb go on over their head, it makes me feel like we’ve accomplished something.”
Benefiel also found opportunities to engage students not only through music but movement. Many of the numbers students sing are also choreographed, giving those who aren’t necessarily musically inclined another chance to enjoy themselves.
On Benefiel’s last day of school last week, she danced around the room with students as they sang some of their favorite tunes.
“I’ve been here so long, it’s going to be strange to leave, and I’m really going to miss it,” she said.
Benefiel – or “Mrs. B” as her youngest students call her – has always been a hit among the little ones.
“She’s nice, and she teaches us a lot of songs,” said Haley Ross, 6.
Jan Kehrt, principal at Harris Elementary, said students have always enjoyed going to music class with Benefiel.
“She has truly touched so many lives because of the years she has spent,” Kehrt said.
Kehrt said the variety Benefiel provided in her classes gave many students the opportunity to discover their talents.
“They sing, they play instruments, they learn musical notes,” she said. “She will be greatly missed.”
Benefiel looks forward to spending more time with her family in retirement. She and her husband, Bob, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary next month.
And she’s not entirely ready to drop out of the music scene just yet.
Benefiel will continue helping with music for Hancock County Children’s Theater, an annual summer program that brings together students from all four school corporations to put on a musical.
As she leaves teaching behind, Benefiel hopes her work has made a lasting impression with students.
“I hope they take a love and a joy of music, and that many of them … will go on eventually to join the choir, say at the junior high, join band,” she said. “But even if they don’t, I hope they take an appreciation of music.”