We've all had teachers who have positively affected our lives. For me, it was my 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. King, who sparked a love of writing. And Mrs. Hoover, the former honors program adviser for Liberty High School, who fanned that spark until the fire took hold.
How often do you actually thank the teacher who helped make you who you are? Twenty years of students decided to do just that with the Liberty High School Golden Leopard Marching Band Reunion, held at Churchill Park on July 17. These years of Liberty Marching Band have become known as The Purser Years.
Mr. Joseph R. Purser, affectionately dubbed J.P., touched many lives in his 20 years at Liberty. As a trombone player from Liberty's graduating class of 1991, I had the honor of knowing him.
Mr. Purser is one of those teachers who is loved by everyone. We hung out in his office. We'd stop him in the halls. And through band camp, we grew closer to him than any other teacher.
We saw him play practical jokes, and we knew when he meant business. We saw him dressed to the nines, and we saw him covered in shaving cream. Gotta love band camp.
Mr. Purser pushed us to be our best, individually and as a group. He helped make us who we are today. So it's not surprising that former band members traveled from as far away as California, Colorado, Texas, Florida and Washington D.C. to attend the reunion. Every graduating class was represented except two.
The reunion would not have been a reality without 1984 graduate Elaine (Lainie) Jacobs. She realized that any time she got together with high school friends - whether during class reunion meetings or on Facebook - the discussion always returned to great band memories. A reunion seemed like a logical next step.
Using an old Canfield address, Lainie was able to get in touch with Mr. Purser, who is now teaching a middle school orchestra in California. He agreed to return home to Ohio for the reunion.
With the help of Marla D'Andrea Dull ('87) and my brother, Ed Esposito ('81), Lainie quickly spread the word through websites.
"I think by the turnout, those attending are at an age where we're very much into appreciating our past at LHS and also valued the friendships we had and, thanks to Facebook, will hopefully continue to share our life experiences as we move forward," Lainie said.
At the reunion, it was evident that Mr. Purser hadn't changed a bit. Dressed in a red Hawaiian shirt, he stood to speak to his former students and was greeted with a standing ovation. "When he had heard enough," Lainie said, "he quieted us down just like when we were in school," causing a roar of laughter from the group.
While Mr. Purser hasn't taught at Liberty for 19 years, he did leave his mark on the school.
He told the group that when he arrived at LHS, the fight song was "On Wisconsin." "I hated that song, and nobody knew the words anyhow, so I just swept in 'Minnesota Rouser,' and you know, no one said a word." Not one person - no faculty member, administrator, nor student - noticed. It's been the fight song ever since.
On behalf of all band alumni who attended the reunion, $315 will be donated to the Liberty High School Band.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend the reunion. However, I do want to say "thank you" to those teachers who gave me that extra push and an encouraging word. So, thank you, Mr. Purser, Mrs. King, Mrs. Hoover, Frau Bartos, Mr. Jaillet, Mr. Perry, Mr. Lucas. There is not enough space in this column to thank teachers across this state and across this country.
Harley is a Howland resident. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.