Despite its beginnings as a show-business collaboration, the love story of Gene and Kay Consales was a private, sweet tale of deep devotion and commitment, written over the course of their 63-year marriage. At its core was also a love for music and the arts that led to a full life together and a lasting legacy of million in gifts that will help Montclair State music students for years to come.
Their story began in high school, but their friendship was interrupted when Gene was drafted into the Army Air Corps, where he played the accordion for the troops in Italy and the United States. They reconnected later when they collaborated on a production of Voice of the Heart, an operetta that Gene composed and Kay choreographed. As the show took shape, Gene and Kay fell in love. They married in 1947.
Soon, Gene found himself at a crossroads. As a talented musician and composer, he could pursue a career in the theater, or he could take advantage of the G.I. Bill, earn a degree and spend his life doing something else he loved: sharing his passion for music with young people.
Gene chose the latter, earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Montclair State and became the beloved vocal music teacher at Union (New Jersey) High School, where he was known for his elaborately staged choral concerts.
Kay also shared her passion for the arts with young people. After an injury ended her dance career, she opened a dance studio and taught for almost a decade.
In addition to teaching, Gene invested in real estate, quietly amassing a fortune over the years. When he died in 2011 at age 87, his family – Kay along with the couple’s daughter, Christine, and son-in-law Doug Peters – made the family’s first gift of million, in Gene’s memory. That gift established the Gene Consales ’50 Endowed Music Scholarship for students studying vocal music, in memory of Gene.
Recently, the family also gave a separate gift of million to establish the Gene Consales Endowed Faculty Chair in the College of the Arts and three endowed scholarships for students studying vocal music and musical theatre. In early October, a week before Kay died at age 91, she visited Montclair State for an event in her and her family’s honor for the difference they are making in students’ lives.
The event, featuring performances by current students from the College of the Arts, brought the Consales family together with students whose lives will be impacted by the endowed scholarships and was a reminder of the legacy Gene and Kay have created at Montclair State.
“Having my husband live on in your memories means everything to me,” Kay said at the event. “And I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.”