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 for their inclusion here.  Pictures are welcome.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to John’s children Brian and Elizabeth, c/o WyHy Credit Union, 1715 Suntillwater Ave., Cheyenne, WY. A tribute page is available at

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.


The tragic death of Dr. John Wacker leaves a gaping hole in Western’s music program and in the hearts of his students.  John was everything that we faculty aspire to here at Western: a teacher, a mentor, a role model, and a friend to every student in the music program.  I had the unique experience of interacting with both as a colleague and a student – I returned to music after not having played for many years and he was patient and encouraging as I slowly relearned the instrument I had abandoned so many years ago.  He was able to install a love of music and an ethic of hard work in every member of the band.  His humor, wisdom, life experiences, and knowledge made the band a special place.  He frequently talked about his family and all of us in the band feel like members of it even if we haven’t met the kids, wife, brothers, and everyone else that he so frequently referred to.

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 Colorado University Band, Trombone



This picture was taken Saturday 5/10/14 after graduation. I feel so lucky to have known and been friends with Dr. Wacker.  He changed my life for the better.

 --- Jeffrey Stevison, Western Colorado University Band, Oboe











Dr. Wacker oozed knowledge from his pores, and had an ear for music like no person I have ever met before.  It was an absolute privilege to learn so much from such a talented, professional, and caring individual.  Thanks for everything John, we will miss you more than you will ever know.

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 





I have been in Gunnison for 22 years, and have played under 3 different band directors.  Dr. Wacker was by FAR the most knowledgeable of the three.  He had a knack for getting the most musicality out of the band he was dealt each year.  I will miss him, and still can't fathom his leaving us.

   --- Keith Koepsel, Music Teacher - Gunnison Public Schools; Western Colorado University Band, Clarinet









Dr Wacker was more than a teacher of music. He taught students in a variety of ways, allowing us to absorb knowledge that went far beyond the realms of music.  Dr. Wacker was a friend and inspiration to his students. Above all, he taught us that through hard work and determination, anything can be accomplished. He was a great man, who will be greatly missed, yet never forgotten. 

   --- Ian Weber, Western Colorado University Band, Clarinet









Dr. Wacker was one of the most brilliant and inspirational people I have ever met. He had a passion for teaching that was so great, it inspired me to pursue a career in music education. He always tried to help his students succeed and really learn something. Over four years, I have learned so much from Dr. Wacker about music, teaching, and just being a good person. My condolences go to his family, whom he loved and spoke of often in class. He has deeply touched so many lives, and life will not be the same without him. 

   --- -Kelsey Hollenbaugh, Western Music Major, violin









Not only was John an amazing teacher, colleague and mentor, he was a loving father and husband. Although I was not close with his family it was obvious they were the center of his world. In every conversation we had, whether it was about music or otherwise, his children came up.  When he spoke of them, his eyes would literally light up and his face change character, he obviously had so much pride in being their father. I just pray that his spirit can stay with them to see them through all their triumphs in life.  He was the anchor of the music department and he will truly be missed.

   --- Amanda Cook







It is immensely difficult to find the right words.

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 Colorado University Band, Bassoon

Dr. Wacker is what defines an extraordinary teacher and musician. He was always there for people when they needed him the most, and he is one person that inspired me to become better than what I am. Dr. Wacker's class was the first class I took at Western, and my last class at Western was taught by him.

"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





The passing of Dr. Wacker is a devastating loss to out small community.  I learned so much throughout my five years of playing in the Symphony Band under Dr. Wacker, not only about music, but also about life.  He always had funny and interesting stories to share about his life that made all of us better musicians and people.  I think students felt that Dr. Wacker really cared about our well being and success.  I've grown so much as a person in the time I knew him and have learned more from him than I have from any other professor I have ever had.  I am deeply saddened to have lost such a tremendous mentor in my life and know that life won't be the same without him and his sarcastic wit.  My thoughts and prayers of healing are with his family during this tragic time.

   --- Jessica Steele, Western 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

I had the honor of serving in the band with Dr. Wacker for three short years, and couldn't fathom playing music without his influence. He was knowledgeable beyond belief, and his wisdom has embedded itself as something to strive for. He was more than a musician however, he was a father, and a man who wanted to make a difference. He knew music was more than notes on a page, it was the expression of humanity, and was a way to bring together people. His goal was more than to create music, but to spread the emotion and power of people. It is this human quality that made Dr. Wacker more than a conductor and a musician, but truly an uncommon man with unparalleled spirit. He will be sorely missed, and I know of no elegy that can do him justice.

   --- Kevin McCall, Western Colorado University Band, Saxophone








I had the privilege to be under Mr. Wacker's tutelage while attending Cheyenne Central High School from 1988 to 1990.  He was also my private clarinet instructor.  Although I moved away from Cheyenne during high school and was only under his instruction for two years, I firmly believe he molded me into the very being I am today.


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


Pretty much the hardest days I have had, ever.

 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

Dr. Wacker was an inspiration to everyone he met. He saw the good in every heart, was a mentor to every musician, and a father to all. My time spent with him these past four years will never be forgotten. He challenged me to be the best I can be and to keep moving forward.  He was like a father to me. He was always there when I needed to talk and he always gave the best advice. He would call me his minion because I was always willing to help him in and out of the music library. He would show his appreciation by leaving bags of Doritos in the library for me.  Such small acts of kindness for a heart so big. He will never truly leave us so long as we keep him in our hearts and keep his legacy alive. Rest in Peace Dr. Wacker, you will be missed. 

   --- Jessica Fultz, Western Colorado University Band - Clarinet







On behalf of the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Music, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues, students and friends of John Wacker.  John was a great advocate of music not only in Gunnison, but throughout the of Colorado.  He was a well-dressed, passionate educator who enhanced the lives of so many musicians, both young and older, especially through his participation with Colorado Bandmaster Association’s Regional and Band Festival and the Colorado Music Educator Association’s Annual Conference/Clinic.  Nevertheless, I will most often remember seeing John last October in Gunnison at Subway the day of the Boulder/Lyons/Estes Park flood.  I was recruiting on the Western slope and bumped into John eating lunch with his colleague.  I almost didn’t think it was him, as he was wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt.  It was completely out of the ordinary for me to see John dressed this way, but he told me he had just stepped down as department chair and was so relaxed.  The shirt proved it.  John has taught us all so much, and I hope to one day also learn this from him; how to put on a Hawaiian t-shirt and relax.  We will all miss you John.

   --- Fred Peterbark, College of Music, University of Colorado Boulder



Thank you for this. John Wacker was not only a wonderful colleague and teacher but just a great human being. Not only did I value his quiet council in Chairs meetings over the years, but his mischievous love of music and his wry sense of humour set him among my favorite colleagues on campus.  I got to know him off campus too as his family shared my family's love for hockey and our boys got to play together last year.  He and Nancy, as many of you know,  could move from the opera and symphony, to hiking and camping to the hockey rink without a hitch.  John will be deeply missed.

   --- Heather Thiessen-Reily, Western Colorado University History Department






Please send our Deepest Sympathies to all faculty, staff and students on the loss of Dr. Wacker. Our son, Nathaniel Ley has played tuba in Dr. Wacker’s Symphony and Varsity bands for a number of years at Western. Our Condolences to Dr. Wacker’s family.

   --- 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 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 Colorado University Band, Flute





Such a great and tragic loss. I got to know Dr. Wacker over the past six years as he helped recruit my daughter to study music at Western. He served as her mentor through some difficult times her senior year and helped her in a special studies composition course to finish her degree. The last time I visited with him was at Christmas when we attended a special Christmas dinner that was prepared by his Church congregation for students and visitors who did not have a home to go to for the holiday. He was, as always, helpful and gracious. 

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




One day, I went into his office for advice. I had just found out that my girlfriend was pregnant and we had decided to have the baby. I respected his opinion and wanted to let him know that I had to leave Western to have my kid. He told me that, if it were him, he would probably stay but that no matter what I did I would do it well and that I was a very capable musician. He had a stern hand with me and gave me some advice that has stuck with me ever since but he also believed in my ability to be successful in whatever I chose to do. His words inspired me to get into an Audio Engineering program and start a business and now I just had my one year anniversary for Rudaroo's radio show. Without Dr. Wacker's stern but genuine advice I would not have chosen this path that has made me so happy.

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,
Hey Dude,
I will miss you terribly.
Thank you

   --- 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.

RIP sir.

   --- Steve Leisring, University of Kansas






John Wacker was so encouraging to me. We marched together in 1980 with the 27th Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps. Four years later we both had earned Music Education Degrees... In May of 1984 I got a phone call from John that charted the course for the rest of my life! He asked me if I'd like to move from Tulsa all the way to where? Burns, Wyoming.... oh my! I took over the successful band program there that he had created....he even flew to Tulsa and helped me move all my stuff... His family welcomed me with open arms. This Tulsa boy was a looooong way from home and knew absolutely nobody! Then he recommended me to substitute in a Polka Band playing trumpet... which ended up being the family Polka Band of my future wife! So yes, you can say he impacted my life in an enormous way... Thank You! John Wacker for believing in me and giving me chances to grow and become the gifted music educator that I am today and husband to my wonderful wife, father to my three children and grandfather to my five incredible grandchildren!

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 All Marching Band called him, was so inspirational and influential for a group of kids from around the 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

“I don’t just mentor you on trumpet, I mentor you in life,” Dr. Wacker told me on my first day of trumpet lessons. This quote essentially sums up what Dr. Wacker did. During the past year, I was in as many ensembles and classes with him as I could because he could inspire me to do anything. From playing my trumpet, to loving Baroque music, to being a good friend, Dr. Wacker had a story and quote for everything. He also loved seeing students grow. One time he came up to me smiling and said, “I just love seeing people I teach grow.” It was this love that made him such a great teacher and a very good friend. Our trumpet lessons (and sometimes performances) would go from playing to talking about life lessons he wanted to share with me. What he taught me made him one of the most influential people I know and he will always be a great mentor. I truly learned more from him in a year than I have from people I have known for many years. He instilled a love in me for music and much more. Because of this I came to realize if I have even half the passion Dr. Wacker displayed daily, I know that I will certainly be a good person.

   --- Dalton Dorrell, Western 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









Although we knew John Wacker for a short time, he made a deep imprint on our lives.  He was incredibly supportive of my husband and our family and I am forever grateful.  He and his family welcomed us into this community with open arms.  We will miss him tremendously.

   --- 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 Colorado University Music Department

No words can express what Dr. Wacker did for everyone at Western. No matter what major you were or what instrument you played Dr. Wacker pushed you to do you best in everything. He would also put a smile on your face with his stories, jokes, and funny behaviors. He supported me as I changed my major from music education to elementary education. He always would tell me to come back to band when I had to quit for other classes. If you needed help he would always help you and tell you that if you want it, work for it. I saw him on May 10th, 2014 at Graduation right before I went on stage and he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. He had so much passion for what he did and he showed it everyday no matter where he was. He was a great professor, father (to his actual kids and to his students), and figure at the school. He will be greatly missed and no one can fill the void he left.

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






I met John Wacker just a few years ago, when he participated on the first panel hosted for Colorado Tri-M students. John's wisdom about majoring in music at a smaller school was music to the ears of students from smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. That he had a background in law before going back to school in music was also of great interest: he was living proof that you can change careers and become a successful and beloved musician and music educator if it's your true calling, as it was his. In addition to his many talents, John was thoughtful, engaging, humble, compassionate. Deep peace to John's family, co-workers, and students at this sad time.

   --- Barbra Weidlein -









I remember the first time I met John. It was at the Conductors Collegium at the University of North Texas. We went to lunch; just John and me. He told me that he had a law degree but that he missed music too much and wanted to pursue a Master's degree in conducting. I accepted him and he came to IUP for two years. He was an outstanding student and even better human being. He was organized, dedicated, and driven. Yet, he literally had no ego which got in the way of his progress or relationships.

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 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


Dr. Wacker started teaching my 12 year-old daughter trumpet lessons after last year's Boston Brass camp. He said he "could be persuaded" but he really persuaded us. It was our honor to receive such an offer. What followed in the last year was the growing of an exceptional student-teacher relationship and friendship. He taught her so much more than trumpet and taught me also. The fact she grew so much as a trumpet player pales to the life lessons learned that I hope she will carry with her forever. Many people on this page have used many wonderful words to describe John and his impact on them. We are two others that were so impacted. The words I would use are "larger than life" and it is not acceptable he is gone from this earth. To Nancy, Brian, and Elizabeth - thank you for sharing him with Erin. We will so miss the smile, jokes, and joy that he brought.

   --- 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






The Music Faculty from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction wish to extend our deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to the Western Colorado University family and community for the loss of John Wacker.  This is a tragic loss to the music educators of Colorado and to all who knew John.  He was a consummate musician, pedagogue and friend.  Many of our faculty served with John for CMEA and NASM and he will truly be missed.  The tributes to John on the Western memorial page and on Facebook are a true testament to him as a person, mentor and teacher.  We can all aspire to be like John Wacker.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to John's family, students, colleagues and friends.  

   --- Calvin Hofer, Colorado Mesa University Director of Bands






I was lucky to know John when he was a private trumpet teacher at the middle school where I taught. John was a great, caring person and it was a privilege to know him. I distinctly remember how excited he was to begin teaching at Western Colorado University.

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




John was a great friend and colleague to me and my family.  I graduated from UNT in the spring of 2001.  John had asked me to visit LCC to guest conduct, "Portraits".  His plan was for the group and school to like me enough to give me his job when he left for UNT later that fall.  I moved my family to Cheyenne and rented a house that faced John's backyard, not even knowing this was the case.  John invited my family over to his place numerous times for cookouts.  We often spoke of why we became conductors.  As usual when two conductors get together we discuss ways we will change the world of music.  All of the sudden mid conversation he smiled and said. "You know we are applause fanatics!" But did not exactly use the word fanatic.  Then laughed it off and we continued discussing great literature. John always played my music.  Once I was scanning YouTube for performances of my works, and the first one to pop up was Western Colorado University playing, "Portraits".  Usually I skip performances of "Portraits" as it was composed so long ago, but knew this was John's group.  I listened and felt his enthusiasm as the group played beautifully.   John and Nancy continued to foster our friendship and our new babies, at the time, Brian and our daughter Abby, played together, which for them was laying there looking at each other. We hiked Vedauwoo with babies in the the baby backpacks.   John had such a love for his family, you could see it  him every time he mentioned any one of them.  After John left for UNT, his parents, Sarah and Mainard continued to show us their hospitality, calling me and inviting us to their place where we spoke of many things.  John was all of the things I have seen posted over the last week.  John was my friend.  One that knew what friendship really meant.

   --- Jim Colonna, Composer


I believe that the last moment I shared with Dr. Wacker was meant to be.

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 Colorado University Band, Saxophone


John was my high school band teacher at Burns High School in Burns, WY. That was back in 1984. He showed me how truly amazing and fulfilling being a musician could be while at the same time competitive requiring much practice, dedication and hard work. I became an all flutist because of John.  I remember what a treat it was for all of us when he played for us. Talk about WOW!!! He did so much for all of us at our little school. So many of us have reached out to each other in facebook remember our adoration for him. My heart hurts for his family knowing their grief. I pray for solace and healing for them in this difficult time.

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.







I didn't know Dr. Wacker for long, but then again, it didn't take long for him to impact my life forever. From the first time I met him in Music 140, I could tell that he had a deep love for what he did: for the music, for the students, for his colleagues, and so much more. As time passed, this first impression was only confirmed time and time again. I could see it in the way he practiced every morning long before anyone else arrived at school. I could see it in the way he talked in class, in the way his face lit up when he was really excited about something, in the way that he cared for each student that crossed his path. Furthermore, what I didn't realize from that first day of class was his dedication to his family. Believe it it not, one of the last times I saw him was at his daughter's dance recital. I was sitting right across the isle from him, and I could see his face beaming as he watched his sweet little girl perform. He was extremely proud of both of his children, and he had a great love for his family and for those close to him.  He was a role model for me not only because of his hard work and devotion, but also because of his love, compassion, and humor. He will be missed dearly.

   --- Erin McBride, Western Colorado University Orchestra, Violin




Dr Wacker's first semester at western was also mine, and I grew close to him early on as a young music major. He had a way of making me slow down just long enough to listen, something that is hard for me, and he always showed faith in my abilities. Without him I would have been lost long ago to the things that taunt me every day, and his influence in my life had kept me pursuing my degree even as I have taken far to many breaks from study. I was recently in his office discussing my finishing my degrees and after I left, not knowing it was the last time I was going to leave his office he said one thing... Smile! I will always cherish the experiences I had under Dr Wacker and know now exactly how to answer the question I always had trouble with when he asked it, you Dr Wacker are why I want to be a music teacher!

   --- Jeremy Kroeker student of music, voice Western






I knew John for just a short time, but he impacted my life so deeply.  Even now, it is difficult to put into words how he has touched my soul.  He was an amazing human being, friend, and mentor.  The passion and love that he had for his music, career, family, and students was clear from our first conversation-and his words always matched his actions.  John had faith in me and hired me on at Western and he went above and beyond to help me with any questions that I had.  This past semester I had given a recital at Quigley Hall on a Sunday.  The thought had not crossed my mind that the building would not be open to rehearse early in the morning.  He contacted me the day before asking if I would need to get into the hall.  I was so relieved that he had thought of me and was looking out for me.  He met me at school on a Saturday evening with the keys to let me in and then again on Sunday morning for another rehearsal.  John was there for me no matter what.  I always looked forward to our conversations whether it was about teaching, music, or some humorous story -- they were always interesting, fun, and inspiring.  I feel honored to have known him and I am deeply comforted by seeing the number of lives he has impacted and the amazing legacy he has left.  My thoughts, love, and prayers go out to his family.

   --- Brielle Frost, Flute


John was not just someone I worked with, he was truly my friend.  We taught many of the same students, we even team taught a couple of classes so we talked every day.  Often it was about school but our conversations always led to other things, usually family and life.  Several times each week one of us was in the other’s office to share some news, both good and not so good.  When I was pregnant with Grant and put on bed rest, John was the first person I called, even before Dave!  Once or twice a semester we would be able to leave school and go have lunch together.  This is where we attempted to solve the world’s problems.  We suntill talked about school but getting out of the music building and being in a different environment helped give us a fresh perspective.  John had incredible vision and insight. 

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 Colorado University




I am

having a hard time trying to find the words to express my emotions at the the tragic loss of John Wacker.  Shocked, angry, bewildered, blown away, saddened.  None of these seem adequate.  John was a stellar musician and  teacher, but he was so much more.  He was kind and funny and extremely knowledgeable about many things besides music.  He was willing to do anything if it would help someone in any way.  I remember asking him a number of years ago if he would be willing to learn some bugle calls to help with the various patriotic events around town.  He, without a moments hesitation,  said yes and for years we either played those things together or as single players as the situation demanded.  John was always the professional and at the same time your friend.  He was the best of the four band directors I played under at the university.  He would ask for advice as well as give it.  He made me a better teacher and player.  You can never learn enough and I learned so much from John.  He loved his family and spoke of them often.  I will miss his antics, wit and sarcasm that got the students to perform well beyond their own expectations.  John, I will greatly miss you.  It is hard to think about not seeing you and working under your sterling conducting.  R.I.P. Dr. John Wacker.   --- John Thompson, Retired Band Director, Gunnison Schools, Member of the Western Symphony Band (trumpet) and Colorado Brass Band (cornet)

I was so pleased when we were able to welcome John Wacker and his family to Gunnison.  I knew then, with just a little contact, that this was the kind of band director that Western needed.  During John's tenure I often said that he was the absolute best band director, teacher, and friend in the education of young people.  I was able to play in the band under his direction for most of the years the he was with us.  His understanding and handling of students was superb. His education and background prepared him admirably for Western's music department and the of Colorado.

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 s, 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 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. Wacker was always an amazing supporter of me.  I had a hard time balancing classes, running cross country and track, and playing in two ensembles. As I struggled with my balancing act, I got to know him and his family more as I babysat his kids. My favorite memory with them is playing Jedis in their front yard as Dr. Wacker and Nancy drove off. Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to balance everything and about half way in to my sophomore year I decided I needed to quit band. I had debated the question of over a year and thought it was a pretty straight forward answer: I was too busy for everything and I wasn't making time to practice outside of class anyway. But when I went to talk to Dr. Whacker I couldn't talk; instead I cried. I realized that I was giving up something that I loved and would not longer be a part of-- because the bassoon is not really an instrument you can just pick up and play, like the guitar. I also realized how much Dr. Wacker himself had come to mean to me. Though only in the ensembles for a short while, Dr. Whacker helped strengthen my love for music. He even had us play "Alligator Alley," a song that heavily relied on bassoons, just because the year I joined another bassoonist (from my high school no less) also came to Western. After I decided to drop the bands I was in, I had little contact with Dr. Wacker, but whenever I'd see him or Nancy around town they were always so wonderful and caring. My senior year I found myself writing a literature/globalization thesis that included music. I met with Dr. Wacker several times to discuss and learn more about specific genres of music. He was always so willing to share his knowledge and passion.

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 College Band, Bassoon

I went into my one semester of college at Western with absolutely no intention of being in band, but I left my semester at Western with 3 different classes where Dr. Wacker was my professor. Dr. Wacker was my headwaters professor and I was talked into joining the band. Then when I did my audition piece, I was horrible. I made it a point to tell Dr. Wacker that I taught myself how to play trombone. Then he suggested I take lessons with him and I was all for it. The lessons were what meant the most to me. At first, I didn't really have any motivation to practice, but I quickly realized that this would not be possible. As I progressed through the weeks, we both saw a difference in my playing abilities and I wished I wasn't about to leave for basic training the following semester. Actually, both of us wished this. But alas, I left in January 2013. I visited Western in April of the same year but have not been back to Gunnison since. I have been sending out emails to keep people posted on my military life and he had requested to be on the list. It occurred to me shortly after I heard the news that the last update I sent was after his passing. Dr. Wacker was an amazing man and made such a huge impact in my life in the 5 months I was his student. He will be greatly missed.

--Taylor Tamacori, Utah Army National Guard, former Western Colorado University Band member, trombone

"While I have only been here for a couple of years John Wacker’s impact on me was powerful.  Being a theater person I have worked with many musicians over the years.  It has always been an ongoing “joke” that music people and theater people don’t get along too well.  And truthfully in several of the positions that I have held over the years that was somewhat true.  But in my first meeting with John I knew that was not going to be the case here.  I found John to be immensely cordial and understanding of the idea of multidisciplinary approaches to the performing arts.  He and I were both UW alums and hit it off right away.  We both understood the idea of working together toward a common goal and I was struck immediately by his intelligence, good nature, and sense of humor.  Mostly I understood that he cared deeply about Western students and was an educator in the truest sense of the word.  It will be hard knowing that I will not be able to work with him again this coming year and this saddens me greatly.  Thanks Dr. Wacker, you will always be remembered.    --- Scott Little, Western Technical Director of Theater   

I feel compelled to share my thoughts as I had the good fortune to come to know John through his work directing the Varsity Band that played at our home football games and basketball games.  There were times the varsity band also followed our teams on the road.  I also came to know John as he served as a member of the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee (IAC).  He was a wonderful man, great colleague and a fine family man.  Most of all, he was a great Mountaineer!  John enjoyed directing the varsity band.  He did so for many years and when he became the chair of the music department he gave it up for a couple years only to return this past year.  Under his direction it was the best varsity band I have known in my time here.  He did not do this because he felt he had to do it, but because he loved doing it, and he had great plans to make it even better.  He and I discussed some of those ideas the past few months and we were planning on getting together soon for an update and to see how we can help each other.  His positive energy, love for music, belief in the Varsity Band and wonderful presence was felt by all of Mountaineer Nation at our events.  The total experience of our fans and Mountaineer Nation was much better due to John and the Varsity Band. 

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 is a better place because John was here.     

John was a truly GOOD GUY!

   --- Greg Waggoner, Western Colorado University, Director of Athletics

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the untimely death of John Wacker.  I was an undergrad at North Texas and had the opportunity to play in the Wind Symphony trumpet section with John for my final two years.  His passion for what he was doing and his desire to constantly learn and improve was inspiring to everyone around him.  I will always remember his quick wit and his ability to remain calm even in stressful situations.  I was always so happy to hear of his successes over the years and seeing the outpouring of love from everyone in his community is incredibly touching.  Although these sentiments cannot bring him back, I hope that they provide comfort to his family in this terrible time.  After seeing these words from his students, friends, and colleagues, it reminds me that we are remembered through what we give to others during our lifetime and not what  we give to ourselves.  John obviously gave so much to so many people and will always be remembered.   

   --- Casey Matthews




I just learned of this tragic loss yesterday, and am suntill in shock.

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- 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

John Wacker has been my colleague, mentor, partner, and friend for the past nine years. It will be difficult not to leave my office and not walk down to his for advice or counsel. In many ways, he has been the “heart and soul” of our Music program. John has left a positive imprint in the lives of so many, including mine. He is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Everything he did seemed to have purpose and vision. We’ve been so lucky to have him with us.

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 knows 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

My memories of John started when we were both music majors at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.  I don't remember exactly how we met, but soon we were close friends.  We shared an enthusiasm for drum & bugle corp, so before you knew it, he had recruited me to join the Casper Troopers in 1979 for their exciting return to the DCI finals.  We were both discovering photography at that time so I was always bringing an old SLR film camera around with me.  We would develop the film ourselves and print enlargements in the dorm darkroom.  Here's a shot I took of John as we were rehearsing for a joint trumpet/horn recital we gave in May 1980.

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

I cannot pretend to be eloquent enough to find the words to describe not only the pain of this loss, but the immense light that Dr. Wacker brought to everyone he touched. He is the reason I studied music in college. I remember taking his Music 140 class and just wanting to talk to him after class about whatever he lectured about. I finally had the courage to play my flute for him and he strongly suggested I pursue a musical education. So, I did. Then, he gave me every opportunity he could, and for that I am endlessly grateful. He gave me music to listen to and always tolerated my (sometimes exhausting) curiosity. We always shared things we found interesting and he let me raid his library of books and scores whenever I had some burning question. He shared. He shared everything with everyone, as much as he could.  He wasn’t just my teacher, my conductor, my friend, and my mentor. He had important roles to everyone who ever played under his baton or took his History of Rock and Roll class.

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 Colorado University Music Alumnus, Flute

Disbelief. This single word sums up my feelings since learning that my friend John had died. Disbelief that our text messages from days before were our last forever. Disbelief that someone who was so vibrant and able to positively affect the world every day had run out of time. Disbelief that this void I was feeling was not just a horrible dream.

 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.

And so, I begin by remembering the small things. John’s generosity of so many things: his time, energy, expertise…and fancy chocolates. Every so often I would unlock my office door to find a couple of chocolates in front of my computer or on the end of the piano, or John would race past my door and toss a couple at my desk. Later, I would find him to thank him for the chocolates and ask him what they were for. “You looked like you were having a rough day. Chocolate makes everything better.” John’s knowledge of seemingly everything to do with the flute- people, literature, repertoire, instruments, etc. Of all the flutists in the world he probably had the phones numbers to 50% of them. Of the rest, he knew of at least another 45%- or so it seemed. At the time this would drive me crazy! Now I am just in awe of this one example of his vast knowledge base. Then there was my dissertation and the initial kick-in-the-pants from John to get going. When that didn’t produce results there was dinner with his family and a bottle of wine to discuss my ideas for a possible thesis; he immediately deemed my ideas interesting, but not significant enough to support the entire paper. At this point I suspect he understood I am just contrary enough to need to be told I can’t do something before I actually can… just to prove everyone wrong. Finally, the near meltdowns from absentee committee members, unanswered emails and phone calls, policies that changed, forms that were lost, and looming deadlines. John would calmly listen and respond, “I have a friend [who studies or works at, or just knows UNT]. Here is their number, why don’t you give them a call.” The world would start turning again and I eventually made it to the finish line. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to that John’s support and belief in me is what ultimately got me through. The big things are suntill too much to process, but I will end by saying I will most remember John’s love for music and sharing that joy with students of all ages. He had boundless energy and enthusiasm combined with an ability to offer heartfelt encouragement and advice to every student he taught. This was a true talent and one I will always aspire to emulate.

   --- Becky Weidman-Winter, Flute


On behalf of the Crested Butte hockey community, the CB Hockey Advisory Board, sends our deepest condolences to the Wacker family. As the associations of the two ends of the valley work on coming together, we lament the loss of one of our hockey family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Nancy, Brian and Elizabeth.

   --- 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

Although we both played in the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra for the 1988-1989 season, we (likely) never met.  Our paths would have crossed again had you arrived at your destination, but perhaps we suntill wouldn't have met (you would have been sitting in the trumpet section in the back row, while I was in the violin section in the front row).  But now I know about you through these tributes, and I see the amazing mark that you left upon the world, as witnessed through the people privileged to have known you.

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



Dr. Wacker was a respected musician and teacher in Western’s Department of Music. The University was fortunate to have him as a faulty member where he contributed great depth and knowledge. He will be greatly missed.

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

Dr. Wacker worked with me to bring a guest teacher to Western in the spring of 2013. Eric Miller, a professional musician from Portland, Oregon, and composer of the song “Gospel” in the movie “Monsters University,” also plays trumpet. He worked with Western students for 2 weeks presenting at convocations, lecturing for music and anthropology classes, and teaching marimba workshops which culminated in a performance for the community. Dr. Wacker was very supportive throughout this Artist-in-Residence program, sharing his vision to increase percussion options at Western. Both Eric and I will treasure the opportunity we had to spend time with him. His love of many kinds of music was apparent, and we will remember his calm ways and smile as he made some scheduling decisions, “Let’s do it. Let’s shake it up around here.” May the strength of the many wondrous memories carry his family, friends, and students through the coming years. His ways were quite special and he will be very much missed.

    -- Barbara Haas, retired elementary teacher