Sunday, July 8, 2012

You Know You Had an All-Star Teacher When...

48 former students and many of their family members travel from around the state to celebrate your 70th birthday with you! 

    Today I was blessed to be able to celebrate my high school choir director's 70th birthday with him at his church in Ludington, MI, where he is now the music director.  I can't imagine many educators have had this experience.  But it's not the first time Mr. Wilson has been able to get a large number of people to come and sing with him again...years after they have had him in the classroom!
     In 2010 a secret Facebook group was created in hopes to surprise Mr. Wilson on his birthday and sing with him.  Summer schedules were hard to coordinate, so it ended up being postponed to October 2010, and it transpired to be quite an amazing experience.  The end result was that roughly 100 former students from all around the US came in for a weekend to sing with Mr. Wilson once again for the Wilson University Alumni Concert.  Rehearsals for several hours on Saturday and a concert for several hours on Sunday. You see, this wasn't a retirement celebration or any other routine recognition type was purely just to sing with him again and fill a place in our hearts that have been dormant since high school.  
      To scan the choir that was formed that weekend and see all ages being represented was amazing.  For me it was even more amazing to see how each and everyone of them looked at Mr. Wilson the same way I did.  I had him towards the end of his choir directing career, so I was one of the younger members of the choir.  You would think that those who had Mr. Wilson in the early 70's would feel less connected, but that was far from reality! The love for Mr. Wilson was timeless.  Each one of us was a better person for having him...regardless of the time in his career he impacted us.  (FYI...there were even some students from his student teaching experience in the audience!)   It was magical!  It was emotional!  And we just had to have more of it!
Our version of Mr. Holland's Opus...The Wilson University Alumni Choir. (Photos from Wilson Alumni Page)

The Wilson University Alumni Choir at the Oxford Tree Lighting.
        With the success of the Wilson University Alumni Concert, the town of Oxford asked the choir to sing at the lighting of the park for the holiday season.  I was unfortunately able to attend, as I was acting in Scrooge the Musical with our local community theater.  You see, Scrooge was the musical that Mr. Wilson directed every Christmas season.  I was fortunate enough to be accepted into it as a sixth grader, and I spent 7 years making Scrooge a part of my holiday tradition.  One part that I always wanted, but never got casted for, was Mrs. Fezziwig.  When I saw the audition advertisement in our local paper, I just had to try out, even though I had never participated in community theater. I was casted as Mrs. Fezziwig, along with some other roles, and I was able to relive a bit of my youth in a different way!  There wasn't a practice or performance that went by that I didn't think of Mr. Wilson and the students of Oxford that played those roles.  I was sad that I couldn't attend the tree lighting, but I knew I had my own piece of Mr. Wilson's magic with me on stage that night.
     Earlier this summer I got an email from Mr. Wilson asking me if I had received any information about July 8.  I replied no, and then he sent me an email with the details for his 70th birthday celebration.  Being the music director at Ludington First United Methodist, he invited us to come and sing for the worship service and attend a luncheon afterwards.  It was a no brainer...of course I would attend!  It was the same night as our lake's firework show, but fireworks come every year...this was a special treat!  My husband chose to stay with the firework celebration, so I turned it into an opportunity for a girl's weekend with my mom and daughter. We were able to enjoy a day in Manistee, MI and then we went onto Ludington to stay at  Ludington House Bed and Breakfast, which was a wonderful treat!
       Sunday morning we woke up and had a yummy gourmet breakfast before we departed for the church.  Mr. Wilson had arranged for people to arrive around 9:30 to allow time to go over the songs.  I wasn't quite sure how many people to expect to see there, as I knew it was part of the holiday weekend.  When I walked into the choir room it was nearly full.  Again, Mr. Wilson's magnetism pulled people from all reaches of Michigan to honor him for his 70th birthday!  48 total students spanning the Oxford High School's classes of 1973-1996 were represented. The music was shared with the members of the church, as well as choir family members that came to share the moment as well. We sang, we cried, we laughed, and we celebrated a wonderful teacher!
(I apologize for the end...but you can still enjoy the sound!)

      As an educator, I have often tried to analyze the power of Mr. Wilson and how I could translate that to our education system needs more of these types of teachers. As a student of Mr. Wilson's, I knew that Mr. Wilson was always there for his students.  He would come very early to school to help students prepare for competitions, to lead extra ensembles, and to give all that he could to benefit his students.  Weekends were spent sometimes fundraising for choir trips.  He would give students every opportunity to earn money to go towards our spring trip, which some students wouldn't have been able to go on without his help.  Mr. Wilson would let students borrow the performance tuxedos for the their senior pictures if they needed a fancier outfit.  He stayed after school to work on small groups or to rehearse for the musicals.  Mr. Wilson was always there.  He was also a school counselor, and I can only imagine that he did some shifting in schedules of students that may have needed a community to belong to.  And the Oxford High School choir room was just that...a large community of singers that shared one heart. The music flowed through the room with such awesome tones because of Mr. Wilson and model of respect he created in his room.  He shared a love for music, high expectations, and unconditional love.  He gave everything to his students and it was only acceptable to give everything you had in return.  That still lies with us today, and we will continue to give him everything we can.
Mr. Wilson and I
      If you are reading this and you are an you think your former students will come and celebrate your 70th birthday with you?  Have you given your students everything you can? is a precious, precious we often don't have enough of.  I often hear, "How do you have time to do all the things you do?" I admit, I am crazed most of my days, running here, there, and everywhere, but I will always take time to create special moments for my students.  I have high expectations for myself as an educator because of the models set forth by teachers I had growing up.  Mr. Wilson was an exemplary teacher with a heart big enough to fit 40 years of education and hundreds of students in.  I just read the article that was written when he retired, and I found a quote that is ever so fitting.

 "I always tell (the kids) there's always this one door for everybody and it says 'fast food'," he said. "I think my purpose is to show them that if they work hard in school, they will have more than this one door."

-Lew Wilson

    Are you a teacher that will take the fast food door or will you let your children have gourmet experiences with you?   Work hard and you will open the doors to your heart for your children to walk through for the rest of your life!  

Thank-you Mr. Wilson for making me a better educator and better person!


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