My dad was a band director at a rural junior/senior high school located outside of Batavia, NY. Although the school was small and the pay was meager, he loved it. During the 26 years of his career, he had become part of the community. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. I remember watching him lead the marching band during the annual town Labor Day festival. He couldn't move three strides without someone emerging from the crowd to shake his hand and join him in the walk down the parade route. Simply put, he was completely invested in his school, his students, and his community.
In the summer of 2008, with just four years until retirement, my dad passed away from a sudden and completely unexpected heart attack. He was only 51 years old.
During calling hours, it became clear that our sudden loss had not only shocked our family but the families of all my Dad's students – both former and present. After the two days of calling hours our funeral director informed us that more than a thousand people had come to pay their respects. Many of those were teenagers.
To accommodate the large volume of people, my immediate family formed something of a receiving line near my dad so people could speak with us in some semblance of order. It was incredibly difficult to talk with his students, but it revealed a part of Dad's life that we never totally understood until that point. It seemed that each student had a story about a time when Dad had gone out of his way to do something for one of his students. These stories obviously meant a lot to these kids, but my dad never said a word about his good deeds at home. I think that just shows how genuine he was – he never looked for a pat on the back.
But this is the part of the story that I wish I could share with every teacher beginning a new school year...
As the line of mourners progressed, a young girl – no older than 15 – came up to shake my mom's hand. The girl had tears streaking her face, so in an attempt to comfort her my mom thanked her for coming and then asked her what instrument she played in my dad's orchestra. The girl just looked at my mom and said, “I was never in band, but your husband smiled and said hello to me every morning when I passed him in the hallway.”
As a teacher, I just hope I can make a difference in these kids' lives like Dad did.
I love you, Dad.
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