Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD - Fairfield High School band director Jim Edgeton was hoping to make one more trip to Disney World before his retirement, but COVID-19 had other ideas.
Edgeton turned 65 this year, normally an age people think about hanging up their spurs. In the back of his mind, he always pictured himself working until age 65 as long as he had the mind, body and spirit for it. Edgeton said his mind and spirit are holding up fine, but his body is another story.
'I'm not the same guy I was,” he said.
Edgeton formally announced his retirement this year. He wanted to go out with a bang, to leave his job on a high note after having led his students on a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The trip is normally done during Spring Break, and requires months of fundraising starting in the fall. Students not only get to enjoy the theme parks in Orlando but also get to perform in a parade and have a 2½-hour session with a musical professional or professional choreographer in the case of the flag team.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 has lingered into 2021. Edgeton said the Disney theme parks are only partially open and the students wouldn't have been able to perform this year, so it wouldn't have been the same experience. Not only that, but a survey of band parents showed that 75 percent of them did not want their child to go on the trip this year. Edgeton said it will be up to the next band director if this tradition of performing at Disney World continues.
This past year has been disappointing in other ways, too. There is no regular band class this year. The pandemic has prevented the full band from meeting indoors, and Edgeton can only lead six students at a time. Each one devotes 20 minutes per week to meeting with Edgeton. The band didn't have a concert for a year, pep band had to be scrapped and the marching band season was cut short.
'I feel like one of the seniors because there was so much I didn't get to do,” Edgeton said.
At the same time, Edgeton said he realized it was time to make a change. He's been a band director for 41 years, the last 29 of which in the Fairfield Community School District. He has spent so many evenings away from home that his wife LeAnne has been a 'band director widow.” Edgeton wants to spend more time with her and with their five grandchildren split between Urbandale and Pella.
'There are a lot of things we'd like to do, but we know there is a time limit on those things,” Edgeton said, 'so it's time to start on them.”
Edgeton said he's going to miss seeing his high school students grow and develop their skills. He's going to miss taking them to contests and All-State festivals, and he will miss 'stepping on the green grass Friday nights” for marching band performances during football season.
Fairfield senior Claire Pettit said Edgeton is a patient and considerate teacher, always willing to help her when she needs a lesson after school. Senior Lauren Kraemer can attest to Edgeton's willingness to stay late helping her and others prepare for their All-State tryouts.
Though Edgeton is stepping down from his role as band director, he plans to continue leading the Fairfield Municipal Band and help with Fairfield Area Community Theatre performances. He said he and LeAnne plan to stay active in the First United Methodist Church in Fairfield. They might move closer to their grandchildren down the road, but for now they plan to remain in Fairfield.
Gary Roth, a retired dentist and amateur musician, was a charter member of the Fairfield Municipal Band where he still plays clarinet and saxophone.
'I've played with and for Jim Edgeton for over 30 years,” Roth said. 'In concert and jazz bands as well as theater pit orchestras and church choirs, Jim is my absolute preferred director, and I've played with a few.”
Roth said Edgeton has a rare ability to earn the respect of each performer while getting them to achieve their full potential regardless of their level of musicianship.
'He keeps the making of music fun and fosters that love of music that makes it all worthwhile,” Roth said.
Eric Henderson, the treasurer of the group Band Aides that fundraises for band equipment, said Edgeton is admired by his colleagues, fellow musicians 'and especially by his students.”
'The kids love ‘Mister E.,'” Henderson said. 'I have often wondered how he keeps it all together with all the different rehearsals, lessons, concerts, musicals, pep bands, parades, board meetings, etc., but somehow he always makes it happen.”