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Rich Johnston

“Mr. O. helped me (and undoubtedly thousands of kids over the years) through tough times in adolescence…whether he knew it or not.”

Former Student – Fort Fairfield – Class of 1987

Instrument: Trumpet

Describe your connection to Mr. O
It must have been around 1981 when I met “Mr. O.”;  Middle School band. I played the trumpet and wasn’t that good.  Practiced quite a bit, but there were better trumpeters than me for sure and I probably wasn’t that committed.  I was in the 7th grade, was into sports, and was becoming more and more enamored with the female gender.  I couldn’t really fit much more into my busy schedule.  🙂

But I continued to be part of the band.  Little by little I realized how fun Mr. O. made it AND more importantly, I found myself WANTING to improve just to make him happy.  He was that kind of teacher.  He put so much into each student that his love of music became contagious.  I simply didn’t want to let him down.

So, I stuck with it, practiced more and before you know it Mr. O. was urging me to try out for All-State band.  Again, still not the best trumpeter in my grade, but he had confidence in me (or at least pretended to!)  I continued to play and it became an important part of my high school memories.  I made Mr. O’s “stage band” at a young age, which was pretty amazing because now I was hanging out with juniors and seniors and felt like part of a team.  Again, I played sports and was on many teams but this was different.  Mr. O. made it that way.

When I think back on the hours and hours that Mr. O. dedicated to us, it is simply amazing.  The band played at every home basketball game, something you don’t see often these days.  The stage band practiced at night at least twice a week.  As if that wasn’t enough, he would always be starting up various “ensembles” and would encourage different kids to try out and join…each one exposing us to a slightly different genre of music.  (And each one requiring more and more of Mr. O’s personal time.)  During the school day, when it wasn’t an official band practice, he was ALWAYS holding private lessons for kids.  Not only that, but kids would just go to the “band room” to hang out with Mr. O.  Kids were drawn to him because he treated us with respect and kindness and he trusted us (maybe more than he should have!)

Don’t get me wrong, he could be stern when he needed to be, but you could tell he didn’t like to be.  When Mr. O. was angry, we would step it up because we didn’t want to let him down.  (He seldom got angry though…patience of a saint.)

If he were an athletic coach, he would undoubtedly be in multiple halls of fame.  His record speaks for itself.  Our stage bands / jazz bands always did well at state competitions….if we didn’t win the “states” we were disappointed.  That continued after he left Fort Fairfield.  The percentage of kids in our small Aroostook County town that participated in band was extremely high.  That was due to Mr. O.  He made it fun and more importantly, being in the band was “cool.”  He attracted athletic kids, brainiacs, kids who probably felt like they didn’t fit in….we all came together under Mr. O and we thrived and became a family.

Speaking of Aroostook County and Fort Fairfield…Mr. O stood out in another way.  He had an “afro”, was from “away”, drove a van, and was a musician.  Not exactly the norm in our potato farming town. Most drove pickup trucks, hunted, fished, and worked in the potato industry.  I’m pretty sure that Mr. O. did none of those things.  I seem to recall that he, like everyone else in the area, attempted to participate in the annual potato harvest one year!  (He may have been a bit out of his element.)  But the townspeople, just like the students, grew to love and respect Mr. O.  Man, as a small, far northern Maine town….we were extremely lucky to have him and keep him for as long as we did!  We were all sad to see him leave…even though I was in my late 20’s when he relocated, I was saddened.

Mr. O. helped me (and undoubtedly thousands of kids over the years) through tough times in adolescence…whether he knew it or not. Whatever “failure” I had, I knew Mr. O would be there to welcome me with open arms and pump me up.

Nothing but good memories Mr. O!  You’re “the man” and always will be.  I hope you are starting to understand how many lives you’ve touched.  I love you man!

Describe Mr. O in three words.
Hard-working, fun, talented

What is your most memorable story involving Mr. O?
So many…but the one that stands out it at the state jazz competition…probably in 1985 or 1986.  We were finishing up our last song…don’t recall what it was but it was hard hitting, loud, exciting.  The song ended with a series of hard notes…Mr. O. got caught up in the moment and as he would bring his hand down to enunciate each note, he spun around in a circle.  So, 3 complete spins….then looked at us with a “tough guy”, no-smile look as he pumped his fists. In his mind he was probably saying “Damn right!  We just frickin’ nailed that!”

I played lots of sports but was never as excited as I was at that moment.  Of course, before he turned around to face the crowd (and the judges) he had put that Mr. O. charming smile on his face as he graciously waved and said thank you.

If you could ask Mr. O any question, what would it be?
To what do you contribute your great success and your ability to connect with kids?

Favorite Mr. O quote or phrase:
“Are you ready for Freddy!?”  He’d often say that just before our performance began.

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