A Waterloo High School icon’s career reached its crescendo last Tuesday night, as Director of Bands Michael Mullins conducted his final concert.
Following the band’s final song, the group received its customary standing ovation. But this time it was clearly directed at one person as the crowd started chanting the 60-year-old’s name.
“It was great,” Mullins said of the event. “It was a really rewarding experience. The kids played really well. They really came through and handled the whole night very professionally.”
Typically, seniors are honored during this concert, and they all got their moments, but the focus was on the man who has spent the last 34 years teaching music in the district.
After handing out the last of the student awards, the seniors presented Mullins with a frame and autographed picture of the entire band. They also read a poem one of them wrote for him, which included these lines:
“Band camps, night practices and Saturday trips,
The hours you put in no one can eclipse.
Marching, pep, jazz and concert band,
Would have been lost without your hand.
Your dedication to so many musicians,
To inspire us all you made it your mission.”
After the performance, Waterloo Band Parents Organization President Garrin Brumley and outgoing president CJ Runyon also presented Mullins a $300 Bass Pro Shops gift card, custom alumni band director T-shirt and a framed marching band uniform.
“He’s been standing before you all the last 34 years putting on display the talents of the youth in this community,” Brumley said of Mullins. “Those talents are the results of Mike’s dedication and mastery of his subject matter, combined with his ability to convey and instill those lessons in to his students… He is not only an unparalleled instructor, but also a tremendous role model.”
Mullins appreciated the gifts and kind words.
“The whole presentation by the seniors and by the band parents was very moving,” he said. “I was really just very tickled by the whole thing.”
The tributes capped off a career for Mullins that began with two years of teaching in Delta, Mo., before he went back to school to earn his master’s degree.
After that, he came to Waterloo in 1985, following on the heels of his best friend who was leaving as director of bands.
“He had good things to say about the program and the community,” Mullins recalled. “It just seemed like a good fit at the time.”
When he was hired, Mullins taught every band class from fifth through 12th grade.
As the program grew under Mullins’ auspices, he found he did not have enough time to dedicate to all his students.
“The program grew in both the numbers and just the amount of events,” he said. “The marching band was just a fledgling program when I got here. It hadn’t been a program that competed.”
So, the school district hired a beginning band director to take over the fifth grade band about 10 years after Mullins started.
The district also hired people to teach individual lessons and the Waterloo Junior High School Band.
That means for the last 10 years, Mullins has been teaching all the bands at the high school and the sixth grade band.
Throughout that time, Mullins said he had numerous high points, such as leading the jazz band to two grand championships, developing the marching band staff and taking the band to perform in places such as the Bahamas.
“The progression of the marching program has been a great highlight because it went from something the kids weren’t really into because it was new for them to, well, I would say the majority of the kids would say their favorite part of the program is the marching program,” he added.
He also singled out the formation and development of the WBPO, which Mullins founded.
“They are so entrenched in the program, in a good way, in terms of raising funds for the program, building props, transporting equipment and cleaning uniforms,” Mullins said. “They do so many things. I don’t know how we could survive without them anymore.”
Mullins’ tenure has not been without its challenges, however, as the rigorous schedule has proved difficult, especially when Mullins had young children.
“You spend about as many hours in school as you do out of school,” he noted. “There’s many afternoons, nights and weekends committed to the program.”
Still, he said he has enjoyed his life’s work.
“My favorite part of the job is to see what the kids have accomplished in every aspect of the program,” Mullins said.
He will soon not have that experience, as his last day is rapidly approaching. It is currently unknown because his planned replacement got a full doctoral fellowship and decided not to take the Waterloo job.
Mullins said the plan is for his last day to be June 18, the day of the Porta Westfalica parade.
He said he has mixed feelings about his last day.
“I’m looking forward to having time on my hands,” Mullins said. “I’m looking forward to not being so rushed, so pushed, but at the same time I’m wondering ‘what am I going to do with myself?’”
Possible ways Mullins said he might occupy his time include spending time with his grandchildren, playing guitar in a two-man band he is starting and fishing.
Although he may not be sure how he will stay busy, Mullins is sure about how he feels about his career.
“It’s been very rewarding,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people along the way. I feel like, for the most part, I’ve made a difference in the lives of kids.”