As the marching band season draws to a close, it's often heralded by band parents with a measure of relief, or perhaps in tears, but always with pride. One season is tough enough. Four years, and you're considered an old pro. Imagine staying on for 27 years. That's what Dick Zentner of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, has done.
Dick Zentner's oldest child joined the Norwin High School (PA) band program in 1986. Like many freshman parents do, he hung back and observed that first year. The following year, the band needed someone to drive a truck, and Dick stepped up.
From there, he was hooked. Three of his four children went through the program. After they graduated, though, Dick stayed on.
"[Students] all come out of this with great leadership skills and discipline. They not only learn music and marching. They learn lessons and teamwork that you can apply to life. One of the biggest thrills I get is watching some student who comes in as an introvert that evolves into a student leader. It's just really a neat thing to watch," Dick said.
As director of operations, Dick handles most of the logistics: student transportation, food and lodging, pit equipment and truck arrangements. He's one of the main liaisons between the director and the parents.
In this program, that's a big job. The Norwin Band Aides have a pretty high level of parent involvement. "A lot of it is due, I think, to the fact that there's nobody sitting on the bench. All the kids are starting and participating. No one is unhappy because their kid isn't playing."
Dick continues,"The parents come out of it with the same values that the students do. It's a big team effort. You end up with lifelong friendships with people you met through the Norwin Band experience whether you're a student or a parent."
"[Former director] L.J. Hancock used to say that you had to have three elements to be a successful program. You have to have total commitment from the students, the staff and the parents. They all have a job to do, and if they all just do their job and stick to it, everything just works fine." On working with other volunteers, he adds, "Don't try to micromanage anybody. People thrive on responsibility, is what I've found."
The key to such a successful program is respect. "The band director has to be the boss. He has to have the say over the students, the parents, the staff. There has to be a head to everything, and it has to be him. The parents can't run the band director, the band director has to be in charge."
Former director Robert Traugh shares one very memorable occasion: "The Norwin Band attended the Indianapolis Regional on November 6th, 2010. I remember rehearsing at Carmel H.S. when I got an urgent phone call. My wife had gone into labor for the birth of our son. I wished the band good luck and turned the rehearsal over to my staff. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I passed Dick and he said congratulations and that he would take care of everything in Indiana. I made it back to Pittsburgh…The band made finals and had a smooth trip, much to the credit of Dick. I know that I would not have been able to leave that day for the birth of my son if Dick Zentner wasn’t around. When Dick is around I know the band will be well taken care of.
"Dick, to me, embodies the best characteristics of what it means to be a 'booster' of any organization. He has supported each director that he has worked with to help them create their vision for the Norwin Band. He has provided guidance when asked, and helps make the job of 'Band Director' a focus on the students in the band by aiding in the responsibilities that could cut into the time that could be spent for the sake of the students. If you tally up the years, no booster or staff member has had more of a direct positive impact on so many of the students involved than Dick Zentner."
Tim Daniels is the current director. "Since I have been here Dick and I have talked often about the history of the program, what it means to him, and why he does what he does. Throughout the conversations, the words 'loyalty' and 'tradition' come up often. In many ways, Dick is the keeper of this tradition, as he has been around longer than any of our current staff and is truly a part of what makes the Norwin Band Program the successful organization that it is.…I will always be grateful for what Dick does for this organization and hope that he is around for many years to come so that more students and realize and understand everything that he does for the Norwin Band."
Does he have any plans to step down anytime soon? "No. I'm still having fun, and as long as I'm having fun, it'll be okay."
You can watch the video of the awards ceremony here.