The handsome guy dragged around a guitar and amplifier everywhere on the Eau Claire campus.
One of his first public performances happened outside a window of a dorm room. There he serenaded the woman he first met on a double date.
During their senior year at what’s now the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Jerry and Carol Way got married. Their 44 years of marriage has been a collaboration since, having three children (Jenny, Andy and Rob) and delighting in eight grandchildren.
They have taught generations of Chippewa Falls public and private school students the joy of music and art. And, together, they have done the same for adults, with him writing several historical musicals and her designing and painting the sets.
“My impression is that they work well together, and her artistic talent is used in every (of his) productions,” said Dave Gordon, chairman of the Chippewa County Historical Center.
Their talents will be on display again Wednesday through Friday at the Heyde Center for the Arts, 3. S. High St., with performances of the “The Swampers Greatest Hits.”
And then the Ways will be honored as the grand marshals of the Pure Water Days Parade on Saturday.
Jerry Way, 66, started playing a $5 ukulele he got when he was 10 years old. But he was so interested in playing a guitar that he made one using a cigar box.
“I was interested in guitars because of the cowboy movies,” he said. Singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers ruled movie screens and later early TV.
So, fortunately, he was given a real guitar for a Christmas present that same year.
Way’s parents had musical talent. His mother played piano and his father played harmonica.
Growing up on a farm between Westby and Viroqua, he majored in music when he went to college in Eau Claire.
A farm girl
Carol Way, also 66, grew up in Medford on a farm off of the Black River.
Her father had many interest. He was a farmer but he was also a taxidermist.
“My dad was a self-taught outdoor artist,” she said. He went onto to paint well into his 80s, and had an exhibit at the history center in Medford.
As a student, she painted a lot of murals for high school dances. She also enjoyed doing ceramics and metal art.
Her art teacher in Medford had gone to college to Eau Claire, so that’s where the then-Carol Czarnezki wanted to go to study art.
A roommate of Jerry Way had a crush on Carol’s roommate, so that grew into a double date. Their romance blossomed from there.
A new life
After college, Jerry Way got a job in Chippewa Falls, and he and Carol moved to the East Hill of the city.
He would teach band at McDonell Central Catholic High School for six years, while she took care of their three children until they reached middle school age.
Then Carol Way began teaching art at McDonell, while Jerry Way switched to the public schools. He taught choir at Chippewa Falls Middle School and then at Chippewa Falls Senior High School. The last 12 years of his career he taught music in elementary schools.
“One of the greatest rewards of teaching is seeing the students after they grow up,” he said.
Carol Way shares that feeling. “I loved teaching and seeing the kids,” she said.
She has worked on 30 musicals at McDonell, doing the sets. “Working with the kids, they just love it,” she said.
The students performed “The Sound of Music” this year and plan on performing Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” during the next school year.
Jerry Way said he got involved writing local musicals after meeting a many who was writing a children’s musical. “He had a script and song lyrics and he wanted them set to music,” he said.
Way would go on to write several childrens’ musicals then historically-based ones.
“He does his research well,” said Gordon. Way consults with Lucyann LeCleir of the historical society about photos of the time period he is writing about.
“He just has a way of putting a story together so people are enchanted,” he said.
The way forward
Jerry Way said what he loves about Chippewa Falls is the community’s interest in the arts.
“When we came to Chippewa Falls, we had no idea we would stay such a long time,” he said. That has allowed the couple to met people through community art shows and get to know local artists.
Carol Way agrees.
“It’s just been a wonderful journey here in Chippewa Falls. (We’re) so happy to have come to Chippewa Falls. It was just home right away.”