Retiring Bethlehem Academy band director Scot Gardner felt a bit like a graduating senior last week, experiencing everything in the building for the final time.
But instead of going on to an increasingly busy life like many graduates, Gardner plans to take it easy and dedicate more time to family after 44 years as a teacher. He feels relieved to put an end to paperwork and early mornings, and playing different instruments isn’t as easy with his body slowing down.
On the other hand, he said, “It’s really sad.”
Gardner’s lengthy career is coming full circle, but he remembers vividly the details that brought him from aspiring musician to long-time music educator.
“I knew since I was little I wanted to be a scientist, a comedian or a musician,” Gardner said. “I found out that most of the sciences had way too much math for my brain, and I found out I wasn’t funny, so that left musician.”
Growing up, Gardner’s dad often played orchestral music on records and the radio. He explained that neither his mom nor his dad could carry a tune or keep a beat, but they supported him in his pursuit of music. Being adopted, Gardner traced his natural ability to his birth mother, who he was told played piano quite well.
Gardner grew up in Minneapolis, but his family moved to Virginia due to his dad’s job with Skippy peanut butter. Even after attending college in North Carolina at East Carolina University, and meeting his wife, Peggy, Gardner knew he wanted to move back to Minnesota eventually. From the time he stepped off the plane as a ninth grader, he said, the south’s humidity was too much for him. The only place in his high school with air conditioning, he said, was the band room.
Throughout high school, Gardner explored instruments like the drums and the euphonium but ultimately attended college on a cello scholarship. Early in his college career, however, he realized the formation of his wrist bones made for a difficult cello-playing experience. Instead, he developed a stronger passion for percussion and graduated being able to play every other instrument.
Before teaching at BA, Gardner started his career midway through an academic year substitute teaching at suburban schools around the Twin Cities. But these jobs weren’t usually related to music, and Gardner also realized he would prefer teaching at a private school. Though not Catholic, Gardner accepted the band director position at BA and said, “I always felt very comfortable here.”
When Gardner arrived at BA, he taught high school students and walked across the street to teach band to middle school-aged students at Divine Mercy, which was then called Consolidated Catholic Schools. He also taught band students at the former Sacred Heart School and directed the BA jazz band. In the middle of his career, when BA was out a choir teacher, Gardner filled that position as well for about 20 years.
Although he felt like “a fish out of water’’ as a choir director, Gardner said, “It was fun; I loved it. I had students go on to become music teachers and a couple went on to become choir teachers and instrumental teachers.”
One such student is Erin Holmes (nee Gartner), who graduated from BA in 1995 and had Gardner as a band director since fifth grade. Even after 21 years of serving as a director of bands herself at Farmington High School, Holmes said Gardner’s impact continues to stick in her memory.
“He was such an amazing connection for me in terms of being able to trust a teacher and having a place to go where I felt at home,” Holmes recalled. “I always felt safe in his place in the band room.”
Holmes remembers when Gardner invited her to play with the high school band when she was a sixth grader. She felt nervous and shy surrounded by older students, but as she played her saxophone, Gardner gave her cues to let her know he believed in her. As an eighth grader, she also remembers telling him she wanted to be a band director herself some day. He never let her forget that, she recalled, and pushed her to do what she sought out to do.
“It’s always remarkable to see someone give so much of their life to teaching, and I’m hoping to reach as many students as he reached,” Holmes said.
Two particular incidents stand out to Gardner as moments of pride in his career at BA. The first, chronologically, was the band’s first concert under his direction. Being the school’s fifth band director in eight years, Gardner said he didn’t feel pressured to meet high expectations. But the community was pleasantly surprised.
“The first concert was just exciting,” Gardner said. “It was my first concert as a teacher, and their first decent concert, apparently, ever. It was just so exciting I was just riding high for days after from something as simple as a concert.”
The second memorable moment Gardner shared relates to a particular middle school student he never forgot. The student was an excellent musician but somewhat of a social outcast among his peers, even in the band room. In speaking with the student one day, Gardner encouraged him to be himself during a time in life when everyone wants to be the same. He explained to the student that middle school issues don’t apply to high school and college.
The student’s mother gave Gardner a call about a week later to say, “I don’t know what you said to my son, but he’s a completely different person.” The student moved away before graduating, but the next time Gardner saw his former student, he was excited to introduce his girlfriend to the teacher who, he explained, changed his life.
“If I could teach anyone to appreciate music I feel I’ve done my job well, but if I can change someone else’s life who really needs help, there’s nothing more important I’ve ever done,” Gardner said.
While cooling off with a bowl of rocky road this week, local dairy producers encourage consumers to learn more about the industry and those who are a part of it in recognition of June Dairy Month.
From engineering and technological jobs through animal science, care and nutrition, the This is Dairy Farming’s site explains how those working with dairy may spend their days milking and caring for the cows and calves on the farm; advising on feed or technology or working as a vet or specialist in breeding. Locally, organizations like the Rice and Steele American Dairy Association help promote the industry and its products through dairy princess programs and events.
Kelsey Kuball, one of two 2021 Rice County Dairy princesses, was recently selected as a Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalist. Kuball, the daughter of Shannon and Nathan Kuball, lives on her family’s farm north of Waterville.
Kuball, a 2020 Waterville-Elysian-Morristown grad, believes the dairy princess program is a great way to interact with consumers and be the face of dairy farmers, who spend a lot of time investing in their families and communities.
“Not a lot of people can interact with them personally, so I really like that role and that opportunity,” said Kuball.
Kuball, a sixth generation farmer, started out on her family’s farm feeding the calves with her younger siblings. As she got older, she began helping with the milking shifts, in the field and bedding the pens.
In recognition of June Dairy Month, Kuball wants consumers to know that farmers genuinely care about their animals, their families and communities, and continually give time and energy to feed people they might never meet.
The typical day for the Kuballs starts out at 5 a.m. for the first milking shift. The dairy cows are milked twice a day, and are given mixed and fresh feed once done milking around 9 or 9:30 a.m. Calves are also given fresh feed, water, bedding and milk. The cows are milked again in the evening, and given fresh bedding and refreshing food. All chores are repeated each day, on top of keeping breeding cycles up, checking on pregnant cows, treating sick cows, caring for calves, taking care of fieldwork to provide for the cows and when it’s extremely cold or hot, taking extra precautions to make sure the cows are cared for. Since cows don’t like the heat, Kuball says they make sure the sprinklers and fans are on at all times during warmer months.
During her mock media interview, one of the steps of applying/running for Princess Kay, Kuball focused on the locally drive aspect of Midwest Dairy, which represents approximately 5,800 dairy farm families to 39 million consumers across the region. She focused on her experiences growing up on a dairy farm, how her family has interacted with the community and supported local businesses. Looking ahead to the Minnesota State Fair, Kuball is excited to experience the traditional butter head carving.
Dairy princesses, like Lilly Zollner of Owatonna, are also eligible to represent the dairy industry if they are involved in it in some way, shape or form while living off the farm. For Zollner, one of seven 2021 Steele County Dairy princesses, she got involved in the dairy industry by participating in community ed’s cow camp program. She then joined the local 4-H club to be able to show on a regular basis and ultimately ended up owning her own very small herd of Brown Swiss dairy cows/heifers.
Zollner, 19, was also a dairy ambassador. While at cow camp, Zollner developed a deep passion for the animals and loved being with the calves.
“I enjoyed feeding the animals and getting them ready to show,” said Zollner. “I kept spending more and more time with them, and that led to more opportunities to support the dairy industry.”
After spending so much time with animals and getting involved in the industry, Zollner was able to figure out she didn’t want to do anything but help the animals feel better as a future career. While home from college, Zollner works as a receptionist for Carriage House Animal Hospital in Kasson.
Zollner has learned that there are many farmers who care immensely for animals and raising nutritious, wholesome products. She encourages those interested in supporting the dairy industry to attend the Drive-In Dairy Days event next weekend, featuring Steele County ADA malts, horse and hitch rides and a petting zoo.
Jon Schmidt, of Schmity Holsteins, 4 miles west of Owatonna, is president of the Steele County ADA.
Schmidt, a fifth generation farmer, said that in Steele County there are only 18 dairy farms left, compared to 10 years ago when there were around 40. Though there are fewer and fewer dairy farms across the country, bigger dairy farms keep expanding and keep the numbers balanced. He finds it important to keep up with local ADA associations and continue promoting the dairy industry.
“There are less of us, but we’re trying to stay involved and promote it,” said Schmidt.
For youth who don’t have access to farms, but are interested in showing cattle, Schmidt said many farms in the area lease cattle for 4-H’ers to show. In particular, two of the seven dairy princesses this year grew up on farms, while the others grew up showing cattle through the lease program and got involved in the industry in that way. Schmidt said that is great way to keep youth involved in showing, and to promote the industry, the ambassadors and later on princesses.
Eleven bands, two venues and three art classes amount to one good reason to stick around Faribault Thursday evenings this summer.
Concert in the Park returns 7 p.m. Thursday at Central Park, featuring a different local band every week in genres ranging from bluegrass and rock to a children’s DJ. As it has been for the past 134 years, Concert in the Park is free and open to the community.
“Get ready for another fun summer of live music in the park and make sure to come out and support some of these artists,” said Brad Phenow, Faribault Parks and Rec communications coordinator. “Some of them are making their living making art, so come show your support and enjoy the wonderful amenities that is the Faribault parks system.”
Grant funding typically allows Faribault Parks and Rec to hire 11 different bands throughout the summer, but with tighter restrictions for grant applicants during the pandemic year, the department relied heavily on financial support from businesses and individuals.
“We acknowledge all of our donors when introducing the band to make sure this continues on because clearly anything that lasts 134 years is worth keeping around,” Phenow said. “It gives bands a chance to show off their skills in front of an engaged audience. They comment on how much they appreciate playing in Faribault because of how much the crowd interacts with the band.”
While many of the performing groups are familiar to Concert in the Park audiences, three of the 10 bands are new to the lineup this year.
Back Up & Push, the first on the lineup performing this week, is a Minneapolis bluegrass band Phenow invited to perform based on the community’s interest in seeing more blues acts. Every year, Phenow explained, Parks and Rec conducts a survey to determine which genres the audience wants to hear. The survey also welcomes specific suggestions, which is how he selected the blues group Dee Miller Band.
Another suggestion that came from the survey was Eclipse, a music duo new to Faribault that previously performed at the opening of Mighty Fine! Coffee Company.
With Martha Brown on keyboard and Kathy Wickwire on drums, Eclipse sounds more like a three or four-person band with a “Doo Wop to Disco” lineup of hits from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
“We find, for us, that playing this music takes people back to happy times in their life,” Brown said. “ … We feel that people enjoy these kinds of shows because it gives them an ability to reflect on their own life journey through the music.”
Brown and Wickwire have played together for over 20 years, and Brown said they look forward to making themselves more known in Faribault by performing at Central Park.
All but the last performer of the 2021 Concert in the Park season will perform on the Central Park band stand. Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing instead performs at 7 p.m. at the River Bend Nature Center Aug. 19.
Phenow said Parks and Rec began partnering with River Bend a few years back during an anniversary year of the nature center, and “the response was incredible.” Golf carts from the facility and other businesses shuttled guests who parked further away, and the crowd enjoyed the concert against the backdrop of woods and prairies. Appropriately, Phenow said Jivin’ Ivan himself crafted wood signage at RBNC, and band member Mike Hildebrandt served on a board that helped form the nature center.
As another partnership, local artist Kate Langlais will teach visual art classes to children at 6 p.m., an hour before the concerts June 10 and 24 and July 9 at Central Park. Participants will craft artwork that fits with the performance genre of the evening. Classes are free, but pre-registration is required at bit.ly/2T8d4J3 so the instructor knows how much material to bring.
“The thought is that the parents would come at 6 for that and stick around for the concert at 7,” Phenow said. “We want to make sure the focus of the concert is to have a family friendly event, and we continue to see that since art classes started.”