…His Baton Is Laid Down…

(Written in September 2002)

Thursday evening I was in the middle of teaching private voice, piano and saxophone lessons when I received Emails from my mother and sister telling me that Mr. Brugger had passed away.  Though not terribly surprised by the news, I was still quite sad. As my student continued playing through her lesson, a kaleidoscope of memories began turning.

My first memory of Mr. Brugger was at the T-Way parking lot as a very small child. My grandmother, Donna, Barmes, use to ride me on her bicycle a good deal, and one of our favorite jaunts in the summer was to watch the Panter Band practice.  The early images must have had a strong impact on me as I later served as the Panther Band Drum-major throughout my high school career.  It was during those years in the late 1960’s that I first heard Mr. Brugger sing “Old Man River.”

In 1975, two phenomenal teachers entered my life – Garnetta and Clifford Brugger.  Mrs. Brugger was my fifth grade teacher, and Mr. Brugger, having retired from the high school, came into our music class each week to teach songs and tell stories.  He would lead us in several favorite American folk songs, and then stop to tell us a joke or a story, complete with various voices and theatrics.  One day, someone asked why we sang “those old songs.”  With a reassuring smile, Mr. Brugger explained that in other countries around the world, folks songs were vital to the people’s history because they told stories of the people of their land.  He felt, that as an American, we should all value our own musical heritage.   To this day, American folk songs are a part of my teaching repertoire.

Toward the end of the year, I wrote a note to Mr. Brugger with a special request, and sent it home via his wife.  His last day he was with us at Washington Elementary School, he honored my request.  I can remember the school secretary, Jan Helpling, slipping in through the coat hall… Diana Lane, the fourth grade teacher (and also one of my favorites), joined her… Mrs. Brugger, holding a cup of coffee slipped in beside them… Mr. Brugger’s voice filled the entire building with the rich strains of “Old Man River.”

Throughout my junior high and senior high years, Mr. Brugger was one of my biggest supporters.  Whether attending an Elwood HS Variety Show – his own legacy and gift to our community – or giving me a nod along the parade route, he always made sure I knew how proud he was of my work.  The crowning moment came when he saw me after a performance of OKALHOMA! and compared my performance to that of Gordon MacRae who portrayed “Curly” in the motion picture.

Upon my return visits to my family over the years, I knew that if we went to Jim Dandy for breakfast, I would get to see Mr. Brugger.  He never failed to recognize me, and always insisted I tell him everything I was doing with my own music career as a band & choir director, and performer.

My last student this evening came into my studio and announced that he had decided to go to Ball State University next fall to major in music education. Although he is not my first student to go into music, his timing was perfect.  As Brian warmed up on his saxophone, I was so happy Clifford Brugger made such an impression me twenty-eight years ago.  I was even more appreciative that he also had an impact on his own student, Paula Simmons, who was my junior high and high school band and choir director.

When my student left, I sent my newly adopted thirteen year old son outside to walk our dog.  I sat down at my piano and began playing and singing.  It was a tender moment without great emotion.  It was a moment of thanksgiving, and celebration.  The lyrics flowed easily…

“Ol’ man river, that ol’ man river,

He mus’ know sumpin’ but don’t say nuthin’

He jes’ keeps rollin’, he keeps on rollin’ along.

He don’t plant taters, he don’t plant cotton

An’ dem dat plants ‘em is soon forgotten,

But ol’ man river, he jes’ keeps rollin’ along.

I git weary an’ sick of tryin’

I’m tired of livin’ an’ skeered of dyin’

But ol’ man river, he jes’ keeps rollin’ along.

Our beloved maestro has laid down his baton at last, yet his music “keeps on rollin’” within our memories, and our hearts.  Where ever you are, Mr. Brugger, thank you, and God bless.

[April 2003, Paula Simmons invited me back to Elwood Community High School to perform, “Old Man River,” in honor of Mr. Brugger.  This was, and will always be, one of my greatest honors.]

Darin as Panther Band drum-major

Darin performing "Old Man River" - 2003

About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Fairmont High School, Friends, Music - Band, Music - Marching Band, Music - Show Choir, Musical Theatre, Performing, Playwright, The Haasienda. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to …His Baton Is Laid Down…

  1. What beautiful words and a beautiful man he was!!! I am glad we share some beautiful memories of him together. There really was something special about Washington School and those who were entrusted with our care. It also gave many of us bonds with each other that we will hold in our hearts forever!!! My love to you and thank you for sharing!!!

    • Darin L. Jolliffe-Haas says:

      I so agree with you about Washington Elementary School. I know Mother, and other parents, always heard that our junior high teachers could tell the difference between WES students and the other two elementary schools. I honestly do not believe it had anything to do with the size of the school, as some might explain. I believe it was the quality, and type of teachers the building attracted, OR, the continuity of its spirit. Teachers like Mary Hennegan, Garnetta Brugger, Diana Lane were an incredible breed of educators. Hennegan and Brugger were definitely “old school” as we would consider it today, but Mrs. Lane was both – and she mastered the balance incredibly well. Mrs. Brugger was not the modern “warm & fuzzy” type, but man, there was no doubt she loved her students! I know most thought her mean. In hindsight, I am convinced she 1) had a job to do and that was TO TEACH – and she got the job done. I also believe she saw the educational tsunami on the horizon which would ultimately destroy the solid education you and I received. Today, our educational system is a mess. The “UN” folders was one of the most integral methods of her teaching – we took them home Friday so our parents could sign them, and return them Monday morning. This stressed responsibility on our parts as students, and also made certain parents were accountable. We were, indeed, blessed!!! Like you, I am glad we experienced these blessings together. And I don’t find them to be idle memories – I have a feeling you instill these same values from WES in your own children, too!

  2. Pingback: Elwood, Indiana ~ The Heart of Hoosierland « The Play-Wright Flyer Guy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s