Today I read something that was so very awesome, so personally gratifying, so humbling. A former student, Mr. Kevin Boyles, wrote a thank you (since it is Thanksgiving week) to those who influenced him, among them his mother, a couple uncles, some other good friends, and me, his music teacher. In part, he called me ‘arguably the greatest role model in my life’. – And that I am ‘a great friend and wonderful example of values in action for all of us lucky enough to know you as kids.’

Kevin graduated from high school in the mid-80s. He and I haven’t had a teacher/student relationship since then. We have become great friends in those almost 30 years now, socializing together sharing personal moments, being part of each other’s’ lives. I am so grateful that he and I continue to enjoy each other as friends, as buddies, as pals.

So today as I was shoveling the snow, I reflected on what Kevin had written. I realized this much: when I started teaching back in 1976, I had no idea how my career would end up. There was no way I could conceive a friendship coming out of any of my students like occurred with Kevin. I had no idea of so much fruit of what came out of my 34 years in the classroom. Kevin is a huge example of such unexpected outcomes/fruits/benefit. I would like to recognize some of the others as well.

One of my very first friendships developed with a young guy named Brad Caouette. He was a sophomore when I first started teaching, and by the time he graduated, we had become fishing pals. I was invited to the family farm to do some deer hunting – I never succeeded, but there I was, hunting on the Caouette estate. Brad and I fished a great deal – summer and winter, even to the point of sharing a fish house in the winter, ice fishing during some nasty winter weather, but enjoying ourselves like it was meant to be. We’d head out to the fish house and we’d sing the Virgil Ward theme song all the way. He eventually moved away, but we’ve kept in contact.

Dawn Goble was an eighth grader when I started. This young lady came to me in a body cast, having just had scoliosis surgery the summer before I started teaching. She played clarinet and worked oh, so very hard. She was an amazing musician for me. Later on in life, she invited me to her wedding in a town north of here, which I was honored to attend. Sadly, that marriage didn’t last – a divorce, and then the next thing I know, she’s remarried, and she would call me just to talk. We’d talk about her kids, her work in church, her life in general. We had become friends. It was about ten years ago that she and her son walked into my classroom to say hi, to show him where she went to school. Dawn, who always had been of fragile health, died shortly after that visit. I don’t know the why and wherefore – I assume some of that fragile health caught up with her. Nonetheless, here was an amazing young lady who had become a friend.

In the early 90s, I had the experience that I wish would befall every band teacher. I had a group of kids who rekindled my career – who proved the statement that students can exceed their teacher. Back in sixth grade, Nick Statz, Andy Fredman, Adam Maas, John Larson, Brad Vieths, Dustin Minion and Jeremy Sarna decided they wanted to be their own wind band. They approached me to help. Their enthusiasm infected me as well, and the seven of us embarked on some amazing musical experiences. These young men, only one year under their belt as band members, worked hard and were laying senior high level music. They learned pep band songs to well that they played a few games on their own. They picked up some of their own ideas and ran with it – these guys played heavily for a few years, and even had dubbed themselves “The Saints”. Their work revitalized me – I had had a couple of tough years prior to this, and they brought about a rebirth for me. I see these guys every now and again. Nick’s daughter was in my elementary music classes. Brad is a teacher with his own family now. John runs a highly successful business in town. Adam went on to college and majored in saxophone performance. Andy is an engineer with his own family. I’ve lost track of Dustin and Jeremy. If you had told me back in 1976 that these guys would be there and would do what they did, I think I would have looked at you like you were not only out of your tree, but not even close to it.

Another similar tie with students came about when I was coaching a “MUSIC LISTENING TEAM”. Minnesota public radio held a contest which required students to listen to hours of music, read a book and then take tests on the material. I took on that event with some kids who have become friends – Amy Venzke, Patrick McGuire (he and Amy are now married) and Kassie Laporte. We worked hard on those books, listened hard to the music, and by golly, we earned our way to the state contest. Just another dimension of my teaching that I had no expectation of in 1976.

Just about that same time, I was so privileged to have a student who didn’t need any teaching – Russ Holsapple just asked how something in music worked, and somehow I was able to point him to the right spot, where he checked things out and taught himself. He put on his own recital as a senior in high school. He went on to college to major in composition – I was invited to a concert down in Minneapolis of the Minnesota Youth Symphony, where his very own four movement symphony was performed…. And that was such a huge thrill. I got see Russ and his wife earlier this year in California, where he is now pursuing a career in movie music composing.

And just one more – I had these two little kids, Lacie and Jordan, in my elementary music classes, oh, say in 2008 or so. They are brother and sister, she’s older by a year or two. One night for conferences, in came their mother – Jaci Gran. Jaci, a former student during the same time pretty much as the saints, had come to our school in 8th grade – and somehow, she and I connected over an incident where the ‘new kid’ needed a break, and I was there. That connection returned to me that night at conferences – I had no idea what impression I had made on Jaci, and I was certainly glad to see her – it had been awhile. But she told me that night that the reason she brought her kids to Pillager school was so they could have me for a teacher. You could have dropped me to the floor with a feather! How wonderful to hear!!!

I retired in 2010. 1976 is now 38 years ago. Those early days had no sign at all of what would be coming across my path in the way of the treasures of teaching. There are more stories, but I look at these here and note that they are good samples of so much more.

I was certainly blessed to reap such fruits. Perhaps more will come up in another writing. Until then, I remain humbled and glad to have been a part of the fine career of teaching.