Thursday, April 15, 2021

Final Curtain Call for Long-time Band Director

Mr. Smith stands in front of the Shelbyville High School Wind Band last night at the conclusion of his final conducting performance. Smith is retiring at the end of the school year. | Kristiaan Rawlings


The last song - “Time to Say Goodbye” - was dedicated to the Shelbyville High School senior class, but everyone could read between the lines. The tune, popularized by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, was written in honor of a retiring boxer. Last night, it served as the final concert performance piece of Russell Smith’s 37 ½ years as a music educator, 34 at SHS.

It was the latest mile marker in Smith’s music career, decades removed from his days of literally cutting his teeth as a seventh-grade trumpet player in the Peru Junior High School band. Although he was a parochial school student, Smith’s parents had encouraged him to participate in public school band. His mother was particularly interested in him being able to play at church.

“I would ride my bike, rain or shine, across town for rehearsal,” Smith said in a recent interview.

One day, donning a raincoat in a downpour, his tire became stuck on the railroad crossing, flipping his bicycle.

“My trumpet went flying, my books went flying; I got up and rode my clown bike to the junior high the rest of the way only to find out - as I’m walking down the hall drenched with sores on my knees and elbows and ripped pants - that practice was canceled due to a convocation that day,” he said.

The incident didn’t discourage him.

“That was the only negative experience I had,” he said.

Smith continued playing through high school. Summers were spent with the Peru Amateur Circus band, also led by his teacher, Tom Gustin. The band played shows for a week in July, wrapping up with three three-hour performances on a Saturday in addition to a parade.

“I loved playing in the circus,” Smith said. “It was a great process to be a part of.”

The circus loved him, too. Following his first year of college, Smith received a phone call the day after the excruciating circus week. The Carson & Barnes Circus needed a trumpet player immediately for a series of shows starting in northern Canada and ending in Miami, Fla. He would have to forego returning to Indiana University if he accepted the offer.

“I had to think long and hard about quitting college and joining the circus band, but because my chops were so sore and they needed me right away, I turned them down,” Smith recalled.

He instead returned to his studies in the IU School of Music and duties in concert band, the Marching Hundred and the Big Red Pep Band. His travels with the pep band to each NCAA tournament game led to a memorable moment at the 1981 Final Four in Philadelphia.

The musicians were seated next to TV broadcaster Bryant Gumbel. When afternoon rehearsal ended, Gumbel turned to the band and said he wasn’t sure the game would be played.

“We were puzzled,” Smith said. “He then said, ‘President Reagan got shot.’ We found out before it was broadcast.”

The decision was made to hold the game, which IU won, claiming the NCAA championship.

Smith also organized the first band to play at an IU soccer game after his next door neighbors, four soccer players, asked why the band didn’t play at their competitions. Smith followed up with the band director, and a student-led group soon started a new tradition. That band is now named in honor of Chuck Crabb, long-time IU Athletics employee and Assembly Hall public address announcer.

After graduating from IU, Smith became assistant band director at Seymour High School, where he worked with director Steve McGrew, a Shelbyville High School alumnus. The two developed an easy camaraderie, regularly sharing a package of mini-donuts while chatting during their prep period.

A few years into his new position, Smith was surprised one day to find a note from the superintendent, Dr. Robert Mahan, suggesting he apply for the band director position in Shelbyville.

“I asked (McGrew), ‘Should I be worried?’” Smith said. “I stewed about it for, I bet, three weeks.”

It was at that point that Mahan happened to stop by during the band directors’ prep period.

“We each gave him a donut from our pile and Steve said, ‘Dr. Mahan, why did you put that job opening in his box?’”

Mahan responded, “Russell, it’s been my experience in education that people either grow roots or they grow wings. Steve will be here for several years, and I think, ‘Am I doing you a service or a disservice by letting you be an assistant that long?’ It’s up to you.”

Smith decided to apply. During his interview, Shelbyville administrators proudly showed him the footers on the new band building. He took the job and taught in the choir room for a semester until construction was complete.

“I remember looking around and thinking, ‘There is no way that I could ever fill this band room,’” Smith said. Over three decades later, band enrollment has blossomed and the department now fights for space.

A number of principals have come and gone over those years; his first supervisor was Mr. Orem. “I’ve never met a nicer man or more of a gentleman than Jamie Orem,” Smith said. “He never had a bad word but he always would let you know what he expected. He guided people more than bossed them.”

Smith is now the latest of storied band directors to retire from SHS, following in the footsteps of Francis Chesser and Martin Schulz, the latter of which once shared a backyard fence with Smith. Shortly after Smith moved here, Schulz called to him over the fence.

“You’re the band leader?” he asked. The two traded stories and formed a friendship.

But Smith has left his own mark on the program. He’s preached Aristotle’s “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” He’s also built the school year around an annual summer band camp, which includes 13-hour days and innumerable bonding experiences.

“I tell the freshmen that it’s the hardest thing they’ve done up to this point, but it’s just like life: you’re going to get out of it what you put into it,” he said.

To Smith, every student musician is important. “We have no bench sitters in band,” he said. “There are times it’s more important to hear the harmony than it is the melody, and if you’re playing a harmony part, you’re important. If you don’t do that, the music suffers.”

And that’s the ultimate sin.

“You work up to the standards of the music and the composer’s intention to make the world a better place,” Smith said.

He’s also enjoyed strong parent support at SHS, including band booster Ronnie McKinney, who in the early days created an “attitude of service that has been the earmark of the band boosters ever since,” Smith said. There have many others, such as Ronnie’s wife, Theresa, and Irene and Steve Stanley, whose daughter, Dawn Branson, later served as band booster president. Floyd Neeb has worked on technical aspects for years. Barb Greene was recognized last night for her 13 years of service. And that’s just to name a few.

“The parents have been so supportive over the years. They’ve put up with the grumpy guy in rehearsal that pushes their kids to a higher standard that maybe they didn’t know they could reach,” he said.

Smith has also been active outside of school. He directed the Shelbyville Community Band for 24 years. “I met a lot of great people, had a lot of great performances,” he said.

One of those musicians who made an impact on Smith was Minor Owens, a Rushville man who attended community band rehearsals and concerts religiously.

“Sometimes the music passed him by,” Smith said. “When the music was too hard, he would put his instrument down and he would sit in his chair and just smile. He was a jewel of a person, one of those people that affects your life just because he was himself.”

Smith has since created the Minor Owens Award, given to a student who demonstrates dedication over four years in high school band.

Although he’ll miss recognizing students for their efforts, Smith is at peace with the decision to retire at the end of the semester. He has endured a number of health challenges in recent years, and he often conducts left-handed due to pain in his right shoulder. There was also a colon cancer scare three and a half years ago. 

While he was out for surgery, the corporation hired his daughter, Allison Anderson, as a teacher and assistant band director. She ensured that students progressed even in Smith’s absence.

“It’s probably the most fun teaching experience that I’ve ever had,” Smith said of working with Anderson. “To have the opportunity to teach with your daughter, to see the growth, professionally and personally, and to know that she’s a tough cookie, that she’s able to do the things that I do and, in many cases, she can do them better.”

He’s needed Anderson’s help the past year as they’ve scrambled to adjust in the pandemic. Limited public performances made last night’s concert even more meaningful.

“I think the kids just long for the opportunity to play for an audience and make music together,” he said. “And that's the neat part, seeing the glitter in their eye when they know that they've made beautiful music, when they’ve made something they can be proud of.”

And while he will no longer conduct, Smith looks forward to playing more in a professional concert band called Windiana, a German band and Dixieland band. He might even learn to play the guitar in his newfound free time.

“I’m definitely going to take the dogs on more walks,” he said, laughing. 

But he most looks forward to spending time with his family, which includes his wife, Weedie, whom he met after his sophomore year in college - the year that he almost skipped to join the circus band; daughters Allison and Hillary; and one grandchild, Evan Russell Anderson.

As he prepares for his final month in the classroom, Smith is reminded of Mahan’s admonition all those years ago: “If you grow wings, I would expect you to go someplace else and do all that you can in the amount of time that you’re there.”

Judging from the crisp sounds at last night’s concert, he has. Numerous relatives, former students and associates, including McGrew, were on hand to offer Smith well wishes. But for now, it’s time to say goodbye.

Surprise, Mr. Smith!

Alumni of the Shelbyville High School marching band prepare for a surprise performance to honor retiring band director Russell Smith. | photo by LuAnn Mason

by LuAnn Mason

It all started with a Facebook message.

Quickly, about 40 alumni of the guard from many years of dedication to the Shelbyville High School marching band started chatting. They shared memories and stories and those who lived nearby agreed to meet and practice a routine for a surprise performance for retiring Director of Bands Russell Smith at the final concert Smith directed last night as a prelude to his retirement that launches at the end of this school year. He directed SHS bands for 34 years.

Jill Evans, who choreographed routines for the guard and directed the groups for 16 years until 2014, got on board with the idea and practices began.

“It’s so funny how we’ve never forgot,” she said as a recording of “Shelby, My Dear ‘Ole Shelby” played and the alumni started moving. Knees up to a march, movement of arms high in the air, smiles and laughter and the group was on its way around the parking lot at Blue River Memorial Park.

Just as if it were a fall football game performance, guard alumni didn’t seem phased by the windy, cold, rainy atmosphere that wrapped itself around them. In fact, it’s like they didn’t even notice. They just kept going.

BELOW: Mr. Smith gives two thumbs up to the Alumni Band following their surprise performance of “Shelby, My Dear ‘Ole Shelby” last night. | Kristiaan Rawlings


  • The following couples applied for marriage licenses at the Shelby County Courthouse last week: Benelope A. Novoa, 24, and Jesus L. Diaz Jr., 28; Shane M.L. Dollens, 44, and Charity A. Tuley, 43; Todd A. Heagy, 42, and Melinda S. Johnson, 31; Adan S. Contreras, 36, and Yesenia Mejia-Santiago, 30; Dalton R. Herendeen, 27, and Lauren B. Stephens, 25; Daniel R. Roesner, 27, and Kay M. Ritenour, 31; Joshua Kirby, 32, and Spenser Williamson, 33; and Heather D. Smith, 32, and Timothy J. Carroll, 37.

  • Morristown baseball defeated Providence Cristo Rey, 30-3. Shelbyville High School baseball lost to Mount Vernon, 10-0.

  • As of yesterday, the state reported 4,768 positive coronavirus cases in Shelby County, an increase of 7 from the previous day, out of 19,191 tests, an increase of 19 from the day before. The number of deaths for Shelby County remained the same, at 95. The State lists 11,013 fully vaccinated people for Shelby County as of yesterday.

  • HOOSIER NEWS: More than 35% of grades assigned to South Bend students this school year were Fs or Ns — a grade assignment created during the pandemic to show a student’s failure to master course requirements without penalizing their overall GPA. Last year, fewer than 15% of grades assigned in South Bend schools were Fs. (South Bend Tribune)

    “This Week in Shelby County" works by George L. Stubbs Sr. are owned by the Shelby County Historical Society (Grover Center) and used with permission.


    News around Shelbyville and the surrounding area as reported on or about this date in history. Selections are curated from the Shelby County Public Library Genealogy Department.

    20 YEARS AGO: 2001
    An open house was held at McKay Manor for Edna Parker, who was celebrating her 108th birthday. Born April 20, 1893, in Morgan County, she and her husband, the late Earl Parker, lived and farmed in the Marietta and Bengal areas. She had two sons, Clifford and Junior, both deceased. (Parked lived until 2008. She was the oldest living person for the last 15 months of her life, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.)

    30 YEARS AGO: 1991
    Shelbyville hairstylist Nick Ciarletta Jr. gave an exhibition at the Indiana Cosmetology Association state convention, held in the Hoosier Dome.

    40 YEARS AGO: 1981
    Approximately 400 Republicans gathered at Shelbyville’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge for the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. The featured speaker was Sen. Dan Quayle, who had recently received some press regarding a group meeting with a “bosomy” blonde lobbyist - as described by Jim McKinney in The Shelbyville News. State Representative Stephen Moberly introduced the state’s freshman senator, remarking, “If we had any lobbyists like her in Indianapolis, I might not be working so hard to keep the lobbyists and our state legislators at arm’s length.” Quayle took the teasing in stride, saying he was “beginning to think this is roast Dan Quayle night.”

    Shelby National Bank shareholders elected J. Herbert Wisker, a former SNB vice president who had retired, to the board of directors. Re-elected directors included Chairman George Stubbs Sr., John Anderson, Hugh Wickizer, Richard Ewing, William English, Bernard Vaught, Steve Moberly and bank president Jess McDaniel.

    50 YEARS AGO: 1971
    After more than 30 years of service with the Shelbyville Post Office, Harry Pence retired. He had worked as a clerk for four years and then took City Route 5, which included South, Taylor and Hendricks streets, the courthouse and business area.

    Louis B. Russell, the world’s longest living heart transplant recipient, spoke at the Evangelical United Church of Christ.

    60 YEARS AGO: 1961
    Ted Johnson and Max Biddle opened Shelbyville Rhythm Ranch at the end of W. Washington Street. Designed primarily for young people, dances were scheduled on Saturday nights with Dick Summer, Indianapolis radio and TV personality.

    The Murphy Mortuary bowling team took first place in the women’s tourney at Blue River Lanes. Team members were Freda Ash, Betty Tungate, Mid Webster, Barbara Oldham and Rosalie DeBusk.

    70 YEARS AGO: 1951
    Shelby Hardware Co. held a free Philco Cooking School at the Strand Theater.

    80 YEARS AGO: 1941
    Eight finalists were set for the upcoming marble championship round at Kennedy Park. Finalists were William Garrett, Booker T. Washington, 12, 204 East Locust St.; Junior (Jessie) Baker, Colescott, 14, 32 Fourth St.; Donnie Parrish, Colescott, 11, 451 W. Hendricks St.; Millard Conway, Addison Township, 13, Gordon Children’s Home; Robert Schwimmer, Boggstown, 14; Jack Bowman, Jericho School; Bobby Phares, Thomas A. Hendricks, 11; and Jack Stanley, Charles Major, 13, 640 Main Street.

    State Patrolman Elmer Cord found an abandoned red taxi from Indianapolis overturned on North State Road 29 out in the county. The unoccupied car had rolled multiple times over 385 feet, Cord said. An investigation was underway.

    90 YEARS AGO: 1931
    A hail storm occurred at Rays Crossing, during which almost two inches of rain fell.

    100 YEARS AGO: 1921
    A 32-year-old Shelbyville man was in critical condition but improving after being accidentally shot by Ray Koch, 15, of East Hendricks Street. The shooting was witnessed by Steve Byrum, 11.


    • Theft was reported in the 1400 block of W. McKay Road.

    • Emergency personnel responded to an overdose/poisoning in Fairland.

    • Jail book-ins: Brittany M. Copp, 31, possession of meth, hold for another jurisdiction; Joesph W. Fortney, 25, possession of meth, probation violation, probation hold, possession of controlled substance, trafficking; Samuel D. Frogge, 31, possession of marijuana, meth, controlled substance; Leah L. Lucas, 35, possession of meth, hypodermic needle; Kevin C. Moore, 34, possession of meth, hold for another jurisdiction; Paul L. Ray, 46, possession of paraphernalia, HTV lifetime; Daniel J.D. Sidwell, 35, possession of meth, controlled substance; Melissa M. Smith, 41, possession of meth, marijuana, paraphernalia; Roman M. Smith, 28, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, intimidation


    None today