In Memoriam - John Wacker
Dr. John Wacker, Western's director of bands, perished in an auto accident on May 11, 2014. His loss is being mourned by the many people whose lives he touched. We encourage everyone who has known Dr. Wacker to contribute to this memorial page. Please send tributes to firstname.lastname@example.org for their inclusion here. Pictures are welcome.
His obituary contains a biography and information about how to remember him through a college scholarship account for his children.
Note - I will continue to add tributes as I receive them - there is no deadline. We plan to make a printed version of this page and assemble and label the photos. John Peterson
There are many comments on Dr. Wacker's facebook page.
See a wonderful tribute video to Dr. Wacker from a member of the brass band.
Read a wonderful article about Dr. Wacker in a Wyoming newspaper - this was written in 2008.
There are many recordings featuring Dr. Wacker and his ensembles on the music department's Youtube page.
Please keep his wife, Nancy, and his kids, Brian and Elizabeth, in your thoughts and help them through this terrible time.
I’d like to close by sharing a piece that the band played at our April concert. This piece, And the Angels Called, was written in response to the death of three young music students. They played the tuba, flute, and trumpet and you can hear their voices in this composition. When you listen, please picture John during the trumpet solo.
--- John Peterson, Western State Colorado University Band, Trombone
--- Jeffrey Stevison, Western State Colorado University Band, Oboe
Just know that no mic cord I ever wrap for the rest of time will be put away until I know that it would have your approval.
-- Mick Knudsen Western Recording
--- Keith Koepsel, Music Teacher - Gunnison Public Schools; Western State Colorado University Band, Clarinet
--- Ian Weber, Western State Colorado University Band, Clarinet
--- -Kelsey Hollenbaugh, Western Music Major, violin
--- Amanda Cook
Dr. Wacker was an amazing person. But the word ‘amazing’ doesn’t feel like enough. My head spins through all the synonyms: great, wonderful, remarkable. Not enough. Again, my head spins: inspiring, admirable, brilliant, compassionate - he was all that and more.
I can’t find the words that offer Dr. Wacker justice.
In the band room, his music passion was dazzling. He was smart. He was funny. He was focused. It was a joy and a privilege to make music with him.
In the classroom, he had an infinite repertoire of music knowledge, while also being interesting, in depth, and understandable. It was an honor to learn from him.
In his office, the hallways, or anywhere around, he was quick with a joke, ready with an interesting fact about music, or had something exciting to say about his kids. It was a gift to know him.
I am so pained I can’t tell him this.
I was a difficult student. My dad passed away while he was my teacher, and Dr. Wacker gave me hope, guidance, and support during the hardest time of my life. He is, and forever will be, one of the most influential people in my life.
--- Kevin Jones, Western State Colorado University Band, Bassoon
"Give me three compositions that would define classical music?" While he munched on a carrot.
I will miss your smile, laugh, teachings, and your late night practices in the rehearsal room. It has been a privilege and honor to know you for over ten years.
--- Jacob Lucero, Western Music Education/Business Alumi, Violin
--- Jessica Steele, Western State Colorado University Band, Flute
Our daughter, Jessica Steele, played in Dr. John Wacker’s Symphony Band for five years. She was invited to join in her junior year at Gunnison High School. After playing in Symphony Band under Dr. Wacker’s direction during her final two years of high school, she wanted to continue, and this played a large part in her decision to stay in Gunnison and attend Western. His presence in her life during those five years made a very large impact on her. He was much more than a professor to her, he was more like a cherished friend and mentor. Through being in band with him, in addition to learning about music, she learned a great deal about life and about people. He was the most influential teacher she has had, and I know she was greatly looking forward to her upcoming, senior year in band with him. Jessie would frequently relate funny incidents, anecdotes, jokes, and assorted pearls of wisdom which Dr. Wacker passed along to his students during band rehearsal. One comment which Dr. Wacker himself made during a band concert was that he was travelling down a “dark road” by studying law and getting his J.D. and so he turned and came back into the light of music. His loss is a huge tragedy for all who knew and loved him. --- Jill and Don Steele, Gunnison, Colorado
--- Kevin McCall, Western State Colorado University Band, Saxophone
To Mr. Wacker (Dr. Wacker now), band was more than a class, it was a religion. We devoted several hours each day, outside of our regular instruction, to him and to what he wanted for us. We arrived most days at 7 am. We ate lunch in the band room and were there for hours after school. His devotion to us, and ours to him, was evident from the first day. We gave up our summers, our weekends, our families for him; and we gave them up gladly.
Being a band geek at CHS was not a dubious title -- it was an honor. Wacker's charisma, love, encouragement, discipline, passion, intellect and dedication was evident in everything he did, and it permeated all of us everyday. You won't find a single band member that was not in some way changed for the better because of him.
It was an honor to play for him.
--- Meredith Lanis, Fairbanks Alaska
John M Wacker. Killed.
I really hate those words! ...
I am suntill in shock and have a hard time walking from one part of the house to the other and often have to lock myself in the bathroom to let it out. Excruciating pain, a void that is forever there. I would give my arm to have just one more phone call, one more text, anything. One of his close friends from Denton and I were talking and the word unbearable seems to fit as closely as any.
He was a triumph of a human being.
Just reading you all say such wonderful things about him and how he has impacted your lives has provided a great deal of comfort to all that know him. Please know that his family is devastated but are working through it. It is no wonder that his reach is worldwide, he may have lived in the Rocky Mountain area but we are seeing comments from all over the world. His reach is seemingly infinite, and I believe it is through all of you.
I have been talking a lot to his son (14yo) Brian, and let me tell you I have never in my life seen or heard such bravery and maturity. Brian is the rock that is holding the entire family together he gives me strength, he gives Nancy strength, he gives Elizabeth strength. He is the son of John Wacker and John has raised a young man in his own image. The legacy that is John Wacker will live long and will continue to touch lives in a way that will eclipse all before. He is facing impossible situation in an unbelievable tragedy and he is overcoming.
I call him with the idea that I can help him through all of this but it is he that is doing the helping. John and Nancy have two incredibly beautiful children. John instilled his values, his ethics, his love of life, and his love humanity and the pursuit of happiness in his children and they will flourish. They will be the next music educator, the next ballerina superstar, the next opera singer, the next best friend. They are John and he lives on.
As I close this message to you all, I want you to know that he and talked almost daily and in EVERY one of those conversations he made it clear that he loved his friends and colleagues and cherished every one. He loved you all.
Times and dates have been set for the service. It will be at 2:00 MST in Cheyenne at the First Congregational Church Saturday, May 17.
There is a college scholarship being set up for Brian and Elizabeth and I will have more details when they are clearer. If you wish to contribute that would be my recommendation.
Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and love. If I have left someone off this list my deepest apologies and if someone is missing would you all be kind enough to forward?
Missing you all right now,
--- Scott Meredith, Professor of Trumpet, University of Wyoming
--- Jessica Fultz, Western State Colorado University Band - Clarinet
--- Fred Peterbark, College of Music, University of Colorado Boulder
--- Heather Thiessen-Reily, Western Colorado State University History Department
--- Kindest regards from the Ley family in Fort Collins, Colorado
Dr. Wacker taught me so many wonderful things about music, I have grown so much as a musician and an individual. Dr. Wacker, you were always so patient when I struggled with difficult rhythms in the music we made, I could not have done it without your tutoring. Thank you so much for all fun times we had practicing music in the brass lessons room. I am going to miss that so much. We are all very grateful to have had you as both our teacher and mentor. It has been an absolute privilege to learn so much from such a talented, professional, and caring individual. Thank you so much for everything John, we will miss you more than you will ever know.
--- Nathaniel T. Ley, Western State Colorado University Symphony Band, Tuba
I remember my first day of band freshman year. Having come from Dallas and ending up in Gunnison, I was a bit apprehensive of college. I was in a completely different environment. I had quit band in high school. My high school band was such a horrid experience that I thought that I might never enjoy playing in band again. Despite my previous experience, I glad I did band these last four years. The first day I was so nervous. I did not know anybody. Dr. Wacker always plays a piece of music for the band. He did this for numerous reasons such as broadening our musical knowledge. The piece that Dr. Wacker picked was Summon of the Heroes written by John Williams for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I absolutely adore the piece. I thought to myself that I am really going to enjoy playing in band. And, I did.
I just cannot believe that Dr. Wacker has left this world in such a tragic manner. He was so much more than just a band director. He was a mentor and a friend. He always had time to listen to students. Dr. Wacker would listen to the students concerns and problems. He also greatly valued our input in how to improve the band. Dr. Wacker will be missed by all. My prayers are with his family. May God watch over them, and help them during this troubled time. Dr. Wacker, you have touched the lives in so many of us. We all miss you. May you rest in peace.
--- Stephanie Grote, Western State Colorado University Band, Flute
Stephanie had graduated the year before, but stayed on in Gunnison to work and played in the Western symphony band conducted by Dr. Wacker. He was especially complimentary of Stephanie's participation and how much she helped out. This weekend I listened to the band play at the Western Commencement and it seemed to sound especially good. I was disappointed that I couldn't attend this year, as I had done the last three years. I am especially sad now since I would have been able to speak with Dr. Wacker as he was so generously available to all his student's parents.
Words are totally inadequate to express my sadness at the loss that has occurred to his wife and children, to the Western Music Department and to my daughter Stephanie of her favorite teacher in college. RIP Dr. Wacker.
--- David Grote
Thank you Dr. Wacker, I will never forget you.
---- Jade Rudoph, Audio Engineer
First things first, I hope Western makes "John and the Wackers" the official name for the percussion ensemble. This is my group of peers say, 2005-2007 called it.
Second, I told my students about losing my mentor, band director, and friend today. The response from my students initially took me by surprise, but as we remember the times Dr. Wacker came to my classroom and the combined concert we did last year I remembered why he made such an impact on me. My students enjoyed performing under him as much as I did.
Third, I owe most of my adult and professional life to Dr. Wacker. Had he not been hired at Western my junior year I may not of made it (seriously). There isn't a person in the world that can replace what he means to me.
I will end this the same way our relationship started,
I will miss you terribly.
--- Andre Wilkins, Band Director, Salida High School
John, we met just under 3 weeks ago at the tribute to our mentor Keith Johnson. We shared a stand in the concert, and some great stories afterwards and a commitment to see each other soon. I am heartbroken this has happened to my newest friend whom I felt like I have known for years. My sincere condolences go to your family, students and friends. It took less than a couple of minutes to see your passion of being a musician and teacher. I will carry that passion with me in your honor.
--- Steve Leisring, University of Kansas
The impact he had on my life is a minuscule pebble of sand of the impact he had on so many many students, family and friends. May the Lord of All be close and His Holy Spirit provide ALL the comfort that Johns' family needs at this time and in the future! Amen!
--- Mark "Tulsa" Holton, 29 yrs Music Educator, Currently teaching at Victory Christian School, Tulsa, Oklahoma
John, or the "Wack Attack," as we in the drumline for the Wyoming High School Allstate Marching Band called him, was so inspirational and influential for a group of kids from around the state of Wyoming. He quietly demanded perfection, and we all did our best to provide it. Even 17 years after my first summer in that band, his lessons and passion for music and life have stuck with me. He was a gift to all who knew him, and we can only hope that he knew how much all of us cared for and admired him.
--- Alaina Stedillie
Your leadership by example: you played your trumpet warm-up routine, every day, in the band room, before school started, just in case you needed to play something in any class that day. And because you were driven to do it.
Your need to bring out the best in every single individual: you took it upon yourself to set me up with Roger Greenberg at the University of Northern Colorado, who was the other person who shaped me into the musician I am.
Your humor: you once needed to go fix some sticky something-or-other, probably a marching mellophone tuning slide or something, in the storage room. You glanced at your first wife, in front of a half dozen students, and said "you want to go in the back room and....'use the Vaseline'?"
Your friendship: Super Bowl 33, Scott's house, years later. Just hanging out with John, the guy. Not Mr. Wacker, the band director. Go Broncos. The next one will ALSO be for John.
Your thirst for knowledge, not just about music, but about everything: At that same Super Bowl watch party, we were talking about I have no idea what. Not music, I know that for sure. Your quote, forever burned into my memory: "it's fun to know stuff, just for the fun of knowing it".
Your thirst for knowledge about music: yet you were also studying scores that night. While watching the Super Bowl. You nerd.
Your critical ear and desire to always better everyone: while visiting you and Scott in Denton for the 2002 North American Saxophone Alliance conference, after a night concert, we discussed what we heard for hours. Yet the thing I remember most about that night was the way you didn't want to offend anybody with any criticisms that might be overheard out of context. Your quote immediately afterwards, also burned forever into me: "I have some very definite opinions about that, which will be reserved for the privacy of Scott's apartment".
Well, I have some very definite opinions about yesterday, which are fine right here, very publicly, on your timeline. The numbness is wearing off. The tears are here.
--- Nick Frazee, Student at Cheyenne Central High School
--- Dalton Dorrell, Western State Colorado University Band, Trumpet
You have been a great teacher, musician, friend and inspiration to me, and so many others. One of the most genuine, positive, loyal people I've ever known and the epitome of character and integrity. I wish I could have told you what a great inspiration and role model you've been to me. I was always thrilled to have you work with my students and share your wisdom, passion and artistry with them. They (and I) always came out better musicians and people in the other side. I always saw you as living your life at the highest degree of artistry and beauty. You will be sorely missed, but always loved and remembered!
--- Corry Petersen
--- Erin Haynes
6:30 am. John’s car was parked in its usual space.
Long tones on his trumpet 45 minutes before another soul would enter the building.
Every music stand repaired in the band room. John and his son had done that.
A student needs a mouthpiece. John is coming down from his office.
A student needs a make up exam on Saturday morning. It is John’s student.
You are locked out of Taylor Hall at a quarter past midnight. John is bringing you the key.
Imagine that every piece of technology is up to date and functioning in a 50 year old building.
Imagine that you are on your 15th work hour late on a Monday night with a smile on your face.
Imagine that you have a colleague next door who understands and supports you. He’s been there before.
He shares a dream. It is your dream, also.
It’s your first night in town. Where are you? At his son’s baseball game.
You are not just a colleague.
Your family becomes his family.
You see what it means to be a teacher, a father, a musician, and a friend.
You see the kind of man you would like to be in 20 years.
You envision a future and witness a tragedy. I can’t stand that he’s gone.
--- Greg Haynes, Western State Colorado University Music Department
I will miss everything about you and cherish all my memories of you. It was an honor knowing you. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and everyone who is affected.
--- Kayla Greenlee, Western Elementary Education Alum/Former Symphony Band Member, Saxophone
--- Barbra Weidlein - MajoringInMusic.com
One of the funniest John Wacker stories happened when he and two of the under graduate students (Jason Allison and Chris Stine) had a Taco Bell/listening to music evening in my office. I forbade anyone to come into my office with any food item from Taco Bell. That evening, I needed to go back and retrieve something from my office, unlocked the door and the "aroma" of Mexican food rushed out of the room. John and the two students we in "mid-burrito", looking like cornered mice. With a mouthful of food, John exclaimed "You aren't supposed to be here!"
I was able to be a guest at Western State College on numerous occasions and spend time with John and his students. He was a consummate musician, educator, and friend!
There are no adequate words to share at this time, certainly any that can bring sense out of this tragedy.
"A teacher affects eternity; the never know where their influence stops."
Let us honor John by carrying on his musical legacy as his teachers, colleagues, and students.
--- Jack Stamp, Composer
--- Kathy and Erin Fogo
What a shock to hear of your passing. I am truly saddened by this. Having moved on with our lives after college so many years ago, it wasn't 'until social media came about that I was able to see many of your achievements and successes. I wasn't surprised by any of them. Your calm quiet drive always impressed me.I enjoyed our times together in high school and at U.N.C. The many posts of yours on this page have served me well both in music and life. You are already missed my friend. Rest well. My thoughts and love are with your family.
--- Ron Cliffton, University of Northern Colorado
Always have and always will fondly remember John Wacker when I listen to the UNT, Denton, Texas premiere of my "Toumai: Hope of Life" for 7 trumpets which he directed. I am shocked and saddened at this news of his early departure (May 11, 2014) from our musical life. I had every hope and intention of working with him again one day, as he had offered. I will be looking for an opportunity to dedicate a performance of that work to his eulogy. RIP, Dr. Wacker.
--- Lynn Job, Composer (ASCAP/DMA) Buckthorn Studios
--- Calvin Hofer, Colorado Mesa University Director of Bands
Over the years, I had not kept in close touch with John: our lives went on and we were both busy in our own worlds. Of course, now I regret not keeping in touch more often and I am so very deeply saddened at how fragile life is.
--- Joe Janes, Band Director, Lewisville, TX
When I heard the heartbreaking news about John it was unimaginable. How could someone who made such a positive and lasting impact on so many just be gone? I feel extremely luck and blessed to have known John.
In addition to being a great teacher he was also a friend & mentor. He always made time to listen and talk. I will remember his kindness and laughter. I was always in awe of what a great musician he was and of his constant quest for knowledge and education. My prayers go out to his family for they have suffered the greatest loss. Thank you John for being part of my life.
--- Megan Horn
Very fitting the college memorial page has "The Trumpet Shall Sound" on it. I had the privilege of being his student at Burns High School, and he stretched our little vision of music into new dimensions. Somehow as a high school student I ended up playing first trombone in the Cheyenne "Messiah" presentation. After trekking through college as part of the marching, symphonic, pep and jazz bands, I have rediscovered the joys of music after landing in Kansas. The gateway was joining the Flint Hills Chorus and Orchestra that presents "Messiah" every Easter. The community band here is lead by the High School band director, who reminds me of Mr. Wacker in so many ways-friend to everyone, always enthusiastic, and has the ability to pull together a diverse range of musicians in age and ability to play very advanced music. Your legacy is the kind all of us dream of creating. May we learn all of the lessons you taught us well.
--- Philip Brown
--- Jim Colonna, Composer
I had officially just graduated college and thus took the opportunity to tell him exactly what many of his students had never gotten the chance to say. I apologized beforehand saying that I wasn't very good at expressing my emotions with words. I continued thanking him for everything he had done, explained how much these past years had meant to me, and told him that I didn't know what I would have done without the Music Department during my time here at Western.
I like to believe, that as I said these words, Dr. Wacker realized that I wasn't the only one who had felt this way about him and his incredible work.
Dr. Wacker has contributed to my growth as a musician and human, and implanted a passion in me that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Before I left the room, I promised Dr. Wacker I would continue to make and share my love for Music, which I plan on doing now, more than ever
Dr. Wacker you will be missed, but never forgotten.
Rest in peace!
--- Laura Miess, Western State Colorado University Band, Saxophone
He will never be forgotten. He touched so many kids lives in such positive ways. He was truly a remarkable man and an amazing musician!!
--- Teresa Crawford, President, Aspen Creek Management, Inc.
--- Erin McBride, Western State Colorado University Orchestra, Violin
--- Jeremy Kroeker student of music, voice Western
--- Brielle Frost, Flute
The students remark how much they learned from him, especially what he said to them. I also learned from him. Certainly through our daily conversations but also by the example he set. Whether he knew it or not, he was a mentor to me as well. I enjoyed what I did every day even more because John was there. I am deeply honored to have known him, had the opportunity to teach with him, and to call him my friend. He was a great man.
--- Heather Roberson, Director of Choral Activities, Western State Colorado University
He could have had any band in the US. He could have gone to a well-known, prestigious school. We were so lucky to have had him here in Gunnison. John Wacker was the epitome of what we need at Western. Firm, yet gentle, and he was often very funny in the way he handled the young students. He would explain things in a fun, real life way. He'd say things like "This rhythm is like "Taco Taco Bell." Kid's get that.
I say again, in the United States, he rates among the very best band conductors, and we have suffered an unbelievable loss. I will miss my best friend, terribly.
--- John Kincaid, Western State Colorado University Band, Trumpet
I came to WSC for a preview day and had set up an audition to play bassoon and tenor saxophone through Dr. Wacker. During my audition I became so nervous I forgot to breath - which led me to panting and getting out of rhythm. When I finally finished, red faced from embarrassment and lack of oxygen, Dr Barrett told me it was ok and that the altitude often got the better of people. My face grew even more neon as Dr Wacker led me out of the room and commented, "I know you just came DOWN 2,000 feet in elevation" (as I was from Dillon, Colorado).
Fortunately, and by some miracle, I was permitted into the music program and even given a scholarship. I wasn't a music major, but I loved music and the amazingness of playing with folks of the same mindset. Dr. Wacker was a man who LOVED music and was so excited to share it. I remember one time he talked about a song and I literally felt like he was creating a painting right before my eyes. Through his passion he was able to make music transcend itself!
Dr. Whacker, the first faculty member I met as WSC, was a major influence in my life. He supported me as he did with all of his students. He made WSC and Gunnison more of a home. It is with great joy that I look back on the years I knew Dr. Wacker, but also with such profound sorrow for the loss of this great individual.
--- Jordan Cooper, Western State College Band, Bassoon
--Taylor Tamacori, Utah Army National Guard, former Western State Colorado University Band member, trombone
For now, those visions are on hold and pale in comparison of importance to the grief and challenges that his family is encountering, as well as those of you in Quigley Hall that were closest to him. I feel honored to have known him well enough and I am better for it. Heather communicated it well in her previous e-mail; he was seamless in his walks with different people, which included us in the athletic department. Western State is a better place because John was here.
John was a truly GOOD GUY!
--- Greg Waggoner, Western State Colorado University, Director of Athletics
--- Casey Matthews
John was one of those people that you wouldn’t see for years, but immediately pick up where you left off from the last time you saw each other.
John was the ‘typical’ somewhat anal trumpet player, but if you would say that to him, he would just laugh, but agree. I knew of John when I was teaching in Wyoming, but I really got to know John working side-by-side with him in the Wyoming High School All-State Marching Band as the woodwind director. I was always amazed at his patience, but also by his expectations of perfection not only from his students, but his colleagues, and himself.
Later, when we both had university positions we would see each other at NASM (National Association of Schools of Music) conventions and once again instantly connect. Whether it was judging a marching contest, or Region Festival or whatever, John always maintained his sense of composure, integrity, and humor.
I really can’t fathom that I will never see him again.
By the other comments it is clear to see he left a great legacy and will not soon be forgotten.
Love and peace,
--- Dr. Randall Royer, Associated School Boards of South Dakota
I first met John Wacker at the Gunnison airport nine years ago. It was obvious he knew what he was about and that he had a plan to make an impact on our college and students. I remember that he forgot to pack a blue suit blazer for his audition, so I took him to 6 points, our local hand-my-down store, and he found one for $5. That was the last time I remember John forgetting anything. He took the blazer back before he left, too. Those of us on that search committee made the right choice. I have never met anyone with so many professional connections! He’s also been able to bring in amazing people to perform, teach, and inspire our students. After a while it became obvious why everyone know’s John Wacker- he quickly earns your friendship and admiration. Once you’ve met John, you never forget him.
Last year, John confided in me that he was going to step down as department chair. I knew deep down that his real reason for doing so was to spend more time with his family. I respect him for that. It was always clear to students and colleagues that he loved his family. Good call, John. Families are forever, music jobs are not.
Thank you John for blessing our lives.
--- Robert Barrett, colleague and friend
He loved playing the Eb trumpet on the Haydn concerto. We spent the next summer marching with the 27th Lancers corps in Boston - the year we nearly knocked the Blue Devils out of their usual #1 spot at nationals. In drum corps at the time, there was a tradition where all the groups would assemble on the field as the competition's results were announced, bottom to top, and each corps would play a retreat piece as they exited the field in turn. This was usually a more introspective piece than those in the show, and we had prepared an alternate retreat piece in case we won: The Impossible Dream. We worked and worked, with that music in our back pockets. When the places were announced at DCI nationals, Lancers took second, so we never performed The Impossible Dream for an audience.
As a musician, John knew what an exhilarating experience creating music is. When you perform, an audience can share that joy,
but for the musician, that's only part of picture. As an educator, John's circle with whom he shared and fostered the thrill of performing was wider than most musicians can claim. I have seen performances of Man of La Mancha since, and I have always emailed John and said "remember Lancers and Impossible Dream?" Like Don Quixote, we musicians are always striving for that elusive perfection. Nobody had that drive, determination and discipline like John Wacker.
The world has a hollow spot in it now. I miss you, my old friend.
--- Jim Yehle, horn, Salt Lake Symphony, Utah Wind Symphony
Dr. Wacker constantly gave himself to others. Every day after rehearsal there was always a line of people waiting to talk to him. Every single day. After conducting beautifully and rehearsing us, he was probably exhausted. But he always made time to listen and invest in those who came to him seeking answers or guidance, or simply wanted to share something with him. He did it willfully and without burden. He made you want to share, to play, to make beautiful music and to do the very best you could. He also made us listen, not only to his words or conducting, but also to music. Most importantly, Dr. Wacker taught everyone to listen to everyone else’s part, because someone could be making beautiful music in the same room and you wouldn’t know if you weren’t listening. Isn’t that something? Dr. Wacker wasn’t just teaching us music or conducting a band; he taught us how to live beautifully and exorbitantly.
Dr. Wacker demanded your very best, even if you didn’t believe in yourself. He did. He inspired excellence, integrity, and beauty. Nothing about music is arbitrary. Every note, every rest has a purpose and a relationship to something else. Nothing about Dr. Wacker’s work, philosophies, or artistry was arbitrary. He did everything with purpose and unbridled enthusiasm. My favorite words of his pertained to silence: the space between the notes is where the music actually happens.
There is so much more I could say about Dr. Wacker. I will cherish each memory I have of him and miss him forever. He left a large space in every one of our lives, and hopefully we can fill it with music, love, and beauty.
--- Erin Wright, Western State Colorado University Music Alumnus, Flute
A few years into my time at Western I purchased a silver Land Rover. I was so excited about this vehicle and John was one of the first people I told. I knew he would be suitably impressed and he was. He wanted to see all the bells and whistles and asked to go for a ride, which we did. About six months later he purchased his silver Audi. I remember seeing him pull up and asking to see all the fanciness of his new car. We were both ridiculously happy to have cars that fit our picture of what college faculty should be driving. Driving around town was fun; we would joke that we didn’t need to hide behind the sun visor anymore if we saw someone we knew. Guest artist arriving at the airport? We both leapt at the chance to pick them up. At the time we were usually the first to arrive and the last to leave the music building. Being concerned about scratches, dents, and dings we would park in the two spots on either side of the main entrance to Quigley, our silver cars flanking the entrance like two coordinated book ends. Fast forward to last fall when my husband, driving the Land Rover, was in a near fatal head-on collision when the other driver crossed the center line. Only recently have I stopped waking up, mid-scream, from the nightmare where the accident ends differently. Yet there is no question that I was the fortunate one. About six months later I received the phone call “John was in a fatal head-on collision in his Audi.” Shortly later I learned it was because the other driver crossed the center line. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even cry. I simply could not comprehend this cruel and horrible, continued symmetry.
--- Becky Weidman-Winter, Flute
--- Jake Jones, Lauren Alkire, Maggie Dethloff, Laura Meredith, Chris Hensley, Paul O'Conner, Liz Collins, Randy Barrett and Heather Reily
I will miss John at the hockey rink! His son Brian (#32) and my son Johnny play hockey together. I always looked forward to John's great wit and calm demeanor during games, whether in the stands or in the box keeping stats; whether in Gunnison or some far flung corner of Colorado. One of the little known but great things about being hockey parents together is that you don't know each other through your day jobs. I knew John was a music genius, but I knew him more as a stalwart, unruffled, happy-to-be-there dad. He was as brilliant at the Hockey Dad part of his life as he was the music part.
John!! Who is going to help us all understand why McDonald's Coke tastes best?? You can't be replaced. We are all so much richer for having had you in our lives!
--- Leslie Nichols, Hockey Mom, Lake City, on behalf of the Nichols family - Jack, Johnny, and Thomas
We lived parallel lives - we grew up in music, were in marching bands (where I played trumpet, badly), became music education majors in college and sought careers in music. But my story was different from yours - music was a scary place for me where people and circumstances were constantly trying to knock me down; I lasted only a few years as a professional before burning out and changing careers. It took me many years to come terms with my past and to be able to unconditionally love music. But I can see through the eyes of the many that you influenced that not only did you always embrace music, you created a safe place for your students and colleagues to have the same experience. Perhaps if I had your outlook my life story would have been more positive as well ...
... if I can't change my past, I can change my future. I can learn from your example and get out of my comfort zone. I am inspired to do what I can to make the world a better place. You who have inspired so many in your life will continue to inspire as your legacy spreads.
In sorrow yet gratitude,
--- Rebecca Ruttenberg, Violin
We came to know him most recently as an outstanding family man and devoted husband and father. John and his wife Nancy Russell obviously instilled in their children – Brian and Elizabeth – a love of music, a strong work ethic, and an ability to perform that belies their ages. Both have a confident stage presence and great talent as a singer (Brian) and a dancer (Elizabeth).
We value our experience in getting to know this family during the rehearsals and performances of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in the 2013 Christmas season when Alyce Meredith was the musical director and pianist. Brian sang the role of Amahl with remarkable skill and Elizabeth, as a cast member, performed a beautiful dance sequence. John videotaped the two performances with obvious pride in his children.
John’s musical talent lives on in his children. We hope Brian and Elizabeth continue to hone their skills and develop into fine professionals. We hope they will always recognize the debt they owe their father as they grow in their abilities. Especially, we hope they will remember him as a loving father who was devoted to them and their mother.
--- Alyce and Larry Meredith
-- Barbara Haas, retired elementary teacher