Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Just One More Teacher Story

The following story, coming on the heels of the Betty Hyde story,  may appear to be but a mere coincidence to many. However, I do believe that things happen for a reason, even if I don't know for sure what the reason is.

In August 2012, about the time that plans for the Betty Hyde luncheon were in full gear, I got an e-mail  from an old college friend,  roommate and music school classmate from Drake University. Seems there was going to be a "1st ever" Drake Marching Band Reunion held in October.  Thompson was on the committee organizing the event and he wanted my support. He also wanted to know if I would attend so we could hang out, get caught up with each other and reminisce about our days together at good ole DU.  One of the focal points of the reunion was to pay tribute to Don Marcouiller, who led the band program at Drake from 1956-1987 and who had yet to be honored in a distinct way."Chief",  as he was affectionately called, was still in good health, but at 80,  the clock was ticking. The event would feature a Friday night reception, breakfast planning meeting on Saturday followed by alumni band rehearsal. From there, it would be off to the stadium to sit in the end zone with the Drake Marching Band and play along throughout the first half.  We would watch the halftime performance where Don Marcouiller would be honored, then back to the music building for  a 3 hour reception/social event where more formal presentations and socializing would occur. 

A couple of weeks later, the event registration information showed up in an e-mail and I wasted no time in getting registered and placed it on my calendar. As fate would have it, the reunion was at the end of the same week Georgette and I were booked for our annual week at a condo in  Estes Park, CO. However, we were scheduled to return to Omaha on Friday which meant I would skip the Friday night reception, but would drive over early Saturday morning in time for the breakfast. With a full day of activities on Saturday, it would still be worth the trip. Sounded like a good plan to me.

Drake Marching Band at Soldier Field, Chicago, 1971
As the weeks passed  and the Betty Hyde event came and went , I began to think about the upcoming band reunion at Drake. Growing up in Des Moines near the University, this was more than a marching band reunion, it was a Des Moines reunion. What a great time to be back in the old neighborhood where on Saturday afternoons in the fall, the smell of burning leaves  in our driveways would color the air. Where on Friday afternoons, my brothers and I would hike over to the stadium  and listen to the Drake marching band rehearse in the empty stadium and where I began to dream of playing  in that band someday. We  would walk up Forest Avenue to the McDonalds where I would have my first job and earn the infamous "employee of the month" award in August of 1969.  We'd walk down Forest to 34th and wander down fraternity/sorority row where the homecoming floats would be parked  in front of Greek houses,  adorned with whatever homecoming theme was "in" that year. It all seemed bigger than life back then, and although much has changed in the landscape on and around campus, much had stayed the same and I was looking forward to taking it all in, one more time.

One day, checking on the registration site to see who was attending that I might know, 2 names in particular caught my eye . One was Robert  Lake and the other was Tom Lee. Surely this was more than a coincidence. After all, I had just attended a reunion recognizing a teacher 45 years after my last class with her. But now it seemed that I would also be attending a reunion where 2 men who, as young Drake students some 48 or 49 years ago, introduced me to the world of music education. Obviously they were attending for similar reasons as was I-they had attended Drake and studied under "Chief", had performed in the Drake Band as undergrads, then gone on to long successful careers as music educators. Yet, here was another opportunity to come face-to-face with teachers who had influenced and shaped me, this time in the area of music, something that has given me so much joy and purpose throughout my lifetime.

When my Dad asked me back in 1963, if I wanted to play a band instrument, I gave him a rousing "yes, I want to play the trumpet" and he responded with, "Good, but you can't play the trumpet. Your teeth aren't straight enough. But you can play the saxophone". My response, if I remember correctly, was " OK, what's a saxophone?".  Dad  rented an old Conn alto saxophone from Leach Music in downtown Des Moines so  I could join the newly formed instrumental music program at St. Augustin School. I was to take lessons on Saturday mornings and my teacher was to be Mr. Bob Lake. Eventually, there would be a few organized band rehearsals and they would be led by  Tom Lee.  Mr. Lee,  then a graduate student working on his Master's at Drake, had taken the job of developing the instrumental music program for the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Des Moines. He hired Drake undergrads to work in the various schools as private teachers with beginners like me. Lake and Lee were my first instrumental music teachers and they would be at the reunion.

I keep things. In an old trunk, in boxes, piles of stuff. Music stuff, programs, race numbers from road races I ran in the 80's, record albums, memorabilia, lots of stuff.  I keep it without a practical reason for keeping it. I keep it just because. You might be thinking that I just changed the subject of this story. I didn't. Sometime after discovering that Mr. Lake would be attending the reunion, I began to have an  inkling that there were some old saxophone lesson books down in my trunk of stuff. I wouldn't have bet on it, but I had a hunch. Yep, there were 2 to be exact. My first 2 lesson books, complete with all kinds of notes and markings from Mr. Lake as he patiently and skillfully attempted to teach me how to play the alto saxophone beginning back in 1963.  When I dug them out and thumbed through them, the memories began to came back-a memory of Mr. Lake picking me up outside our house on 35th Street in the winter, in his old 1943 Dodge parked out front with the heater on. He stopped by before 8 o'clock and gave me a ride to my lesson at St. Augustin School, then I walked home, about 2 miles. As I looked at the notes and markings on some of the exercises I must have struggled to master,  I never once thought of quitting or giving up. I was given a solid start at playing a musical instrument that would turn into a lifetime of experiences. I was lucky and blessed....again. The lesson books would make the trip to Des Moines as I anticipated the reaction they might induce.

My first 2 lesson books found in trunk o' stuff.

Progressing to the Intermediate Book


Lesson book dated 7-10-63
The day would begin with a leisurely drive across I-80 from Omaha to Des Moines on the crisp fall morning of October 6th. The first event of the day was a breakfast reception followed by a rehearsal of the alumni band. As I checked in to the event I was relieved to see that name tags were provided as I was not sure I would recognize Mr. Lake. After all, it had been 48 years and I was quite sure he wouldn't recognize me. To my good fortune, I spotted Tom Lee right away and scanned the room for anyone else I might recognize.  Eventually I located a man who looked like he could be Mr. Lake. Armed with the 2 lesson books,  I read his name tag and sure enough, there he was, chatting with some other alumni. A pause in the conversation gave me the opportunity to break the ice.  "Excuse me, I was just wondering if you would recognize your handwriting?"  Caught slightly off guard, I decided not to make this any more awkward than it needed to be.  " My name is Dan Kingkade, you were my first saxophone teacher at St. Augustin back in 1963, and I just wanted to thank you for helping me get off to a great start as a young musician."  I thought his wife, who was standing next to him, was going to cry. We talked for several minutes, sharing our memories of that time, and I offered the lesson books to him if he'd like them. He passed on my offer so they remain in my possession. Later on, I caught up with Tom Lee and thanked him for his service as the first band director I had the opportunity to play under.  Mr. Lee had just retired after long stints at the University of Texas and UCLA, most recently. Bob Lake is retired after serving as a band director in the Edina,  Minnesota school system. 
Bob Lake, Tom Lee with me at the Drake Marching Band Reunion
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a word or two about Don Marcouiller, the man we were there to honor. I had the privilege of performing and learning under Don's direction during my 4 years at Drake. He built a terrific marching band program at Drake and we had the opportunity to travel and appear at 4 NFL halftime games, several of which were televised ( this was back in the day when marching bands were shown at halftime on TV). I also played in the wind ensemble and concert bands under Don's baton.

Time went by quickly and there were more conversations with these 3 men throughout the day as well as with many other old friends and classmates. I had gotten lucky again, I thought as I drive back to Omaha that evening. Lucky that someone had put a saxophone in my hands at an early age. Lucky that I had been blessed with great teachers who made me want to continue to play and perform. Lucky that music has been a central element of my life. Lucky that this opportunity presented itself out of the clear, blue sky. Lucky that our trip to Colorado ended just in time where I didn't have to pick one event over the other.

You still may not believe that things happen for a reason, and it is not my intention to convince you that this story, on top of the Betty Hyde story, is anything more than a mere coincidence. For me, however, it was no mere coincidence. In the year 2012, I was meant to cross paths with teachers who had shaped and contributed to my life in significant ways. Why? I'm not entirely sure yet, but I will be forever grateful that I took the opportunity to recognize them when the opportunity presented itself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Is 45 Years Too Late?

In September of 2011, I attended the 40th reunion for Roosevelt High School class of 1971 in Des Moines, Iowa. At the previous class reunions I attended in '81 and '91, I gravitated to the classmates that I attended junior high school with at Callanan Jr. High for grades 7-9. Maybe it was because Roosevelt was a such large high school with over 1500 students while Callanan was much smaller with less than 500 students. Maybe it was the times we were living in-the civil rights movement, the  psychedelic scene, long hair, peace protests and mini-skirts.The mid-1960's was a time when we were still somewhat naive, but on the edge of turbulent and explosive social change. Or maybe it was the teachers and leaders of that stately brick building just 20 blocks west of downtown Des Moines, with the WPA murals in the stairwells and a student body made up of a wide swatch of economic and racial backgrounds. It was all those things for me and then some and when I look back, I remember it as a marvelous and exciting time to be a teenager.  

Betty Hyde in her classroom, mid 1960's
At our 40th class reunion, the conversations were heartfelt and humorous, grateful and genuine. It seemed to me that those of us who attended knew how lucky we had were. We had survived the 60's and 70's intact. We had lived most our lives, achieved most of our successes, had experienced the highs and lows of love, careers, and health and were still standing. Time flew by and when the hour to part was upon us, we all said we needed to get together again, this time with just the Callanan group. With the advent of Facebook and e-mail, it was now possible to stay connected and plan an event in ways that we couldn't have dreamed possible back in 1967.

In March of 2012, a group of 12 of us met and held our mini-Callanan Jr. High Reunion, Class of 1967. On a Saturday afternoon in Des Moines we spent several hours together sharing stories and memories, past and present. As we reminisced about the teachers we had at Callanan, one name kept coming up-Betty Jean Hyde, our 8th grade English teacher.  Is she still alive? Does anyone know anything about her? Susan, one of our classmates,  said she had a connection. A friend of hers knew Mrs. Hyde from the hospital where she volunteered. Would she to meet with us? Would she remember us? The clock was ticking and we knew it, after all it had been 45 years and we weren't getting any younger, nor was Mrs. Hyde (who was 82 we later discovered). We parted that day with a commitment to locate and meet with Mrs.Hyde, if she was willing and able.

As spring grew to summer, the plans began to come together. Mrs. Hyde was located and was in good health. She was interested, albeit a bit surprised that this group of students from the late 60's was looking for her. Mrs. Hyde retired in 1997 after working for over 42 years as an educator and administrator and was living in west Des Moines. Facebook messages went back and forth, dates and locations were discussed and finally we had a concrete plan. On Saturday, September 23, at 2:00pm, at Mimi's Restaurant in West Des Moines, we would pay tribute to Betty Hyde.

Betty Hyde, 82 years young.
There were many thoughts running through my head that day as I drove across Iowa on I-80 towards West Des Moines.  Would she remember us? Would she still be as we remembered her? Memory can play tricks on you, I've found. Did I edit out the parts I didn't like, only recalling those that fit my current version? The one thing I was very clear on was my intention to thank the teacher after 45 years, hoping that 45 years wasn't too late.

There were several classmates at the restaurant when I arrived and we waited in a private room that was set for the occasion while others arrived. I put together a collage of pictures and other memorabilia  and had it framed as a keepsake for her. Among the photographs was a copy of the report card where she had she had stated that she had "moved my seat because of wisecracks and side comments and that I had a good mind, but was going through a silly period".

The Callanan group with Mrs. Hyde
You might imagine that if the rest of the day had turned out to be a disappointment I just might not be telling this story. So let me  cut to the chase-the rest of the day greatly exceeded any expectations I could have had. It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon. Did I say it was wonderful?  Mrs. Hyde, upon arriving, had us in the palm of her hand just as she did those 45 years ago. She was charming, sharp, funny, poised, gracious (see the video below). One by one, she spent time asking about each of us, remembering things about each of us such as where we sat in her class, or we how walked, or how we participated. Two of our classmates called in from long distance and passed on their gratitude. And when the time came to present her with the framed collage keepsake , I took my opportunity to tell her about the report card she had written 45 years ago. How I rediscovered it a key juncture in my life and how it encouraged me. About how I used it make people laugh. That it reminded me a time in my life when I was growing the most it seemed. That it represented all the contributions of all the great teachers I was so fortunate to have as a teenager growing up in a turbulent world..

Betty Hyde, 45 years after moving my seat.
Time went by so quickly and soon it was nearing 5 o'clock and it was time to head for home. We said our goodbyes, took a few more pictures, and Mrs. Hyde left with every one's home addresses as she proclaimed, "I still do snail mail."  I later heard from all my classmates who attended and they all received a letter from Mrs. Hyde, typed on a typewriter, I suspect, and sent via snail mail. Mine is posted here for you to read to help you catch a glimpse of who she is and get a sense of why we all admired her so much.


Is 45 years too late to thank a teacher for making a difference in your life? Not in this case, although we got lucky. I got lucky. Don't wait as long a I did. You won't regret it.