Dr. Ira Chesley 'Rocky' Powell remembered for musical skills, sense of humor

COLUMBIA — Dr. Ira Chesley "Rocky" Powell lived a life full of faith, music and family from the day he was born — on an Easter Sunday while his father led a sunrise Mass.

Dr. Powell of Columbia died on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011. He was 81.

Like his father, Dr. Powell grew up to be a minister.

Brad Dixon, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Moberly when Dr. Powell was choir director, said Powell was sweet but strong-willed.

"From the very start he was doing significant work in Baptist churches and rose up to be a strong leader in several churches," Dixon said.

Dr. Powell was a retired MU music faculty member and Missouri minister. He was born on April 20, 1930, in Luling, Texas, to the Rev. Ira M. and Margaret Anderson Powell.

Dr. Powell grew up throughout Texas while his father started music programs in Baptist churches. He spent summers on his grandmother's farm with his two younger sisters, Margaret and Fran.

He began working as a music minister at age 17, and served at churches in Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma. He continued while he studied at Wayland Baptist University, where he received his bachelor's degree.

He married Leila Mae Bohner, and they had four children. In 1974, he married Elinor "Ellie" VanDyke Gaunt, and they had three children.

He went on to receive his master's degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and his doctoral degree from Oklahoma University.

After graduating from Oklahoma, Dr. Powell worked with many churches, including Moberly First Baptist. While continuing as a minister, he began work in the MU Music Department. He worked as chairman of the voice department, choral director and the assistant to the chairman of the department at the time, Carlton Spotts.

"Rocky was a very kind and caring person who really tried to help out anyone who needed it," Spotts said.

Dr. Powell was a very positive, efficient worker, Spotts said.

"He was always on top of things," Spotts said.

Dr. Powell kept music in his life throughout his academic, professional and religious life. At MU, he sang with the jazz ensemble "Singsations," who represented MU in many performances and won the gold medal in an international competition in Bulgaria.

"That was a huge thing for him," Dixon said.

Dixon described Dr. Powell's voice as rich, strong baritone and bass.

"He had great enunciation. Every word was absolutely clear and clean," he said.

He loved to spend summers with his family in Colorado fly fishing, hunting and driving in the mountains. Family members said his zest for life as infectious.

For about four years, Dr. Powell and his wife drove from Columbia to Moberly two days a week to co-minister at First Baptist.

Dixon said he and his family became very close with Dr. Powell and Ellie during these four years. They would have Sunday lunches together, and Dr. Powell would play jazz piano and reminisce about the old days playing music in Texas.

Dixon thought Dr. Powell was as an excellent choir leader and a great person to work with. Often, he would sit and watch him lead choir practice.

"He did a great job working with the choir and got out of them what a choir needs to give," Dixon said. Dr. Powell could get a choir of 130 people to respond to him, Dixon remembered.

After four years at Moberly and 50 years working in church music, Dr. Powell retired for medical reasons. He continued to sing in the "Messengers," a quartet, as long as his health could permit.

Dr. Powell is survived by his wife, Ellie; two sisters, Fran and Margaret; six children, Steve Gaunt, Michelle Gaunt, Matt Gaunt, Alan Powell, Steve Powell and Danny Powell; and a number of grandchildren, great grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

A son, Howard Powell, died earlier.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Baptist Church, 1634 Paris Road. Visitation will take place after the service.

Donations may be made to Memorial Baptist Church, 1634 Paris Road, Columbia, MO 65201 or the Alzheimer’s Association, Mid-Missouri Chapter, 2400 Bluff Creek Drive, Columbia MO 65201.