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NWICB honors Johnson

By Staff | Apr 20, 2011

The Northwest Iowa Concert Band and director Rich Nicklay honored Don Johnson for his long-time commitment to the band at Monday’s concert in Estherville. EDN photo by Moriah Hawn

While Monday might not have been the last time Don Johnson plays in the Northwest Iowa Concert Band, he may not be back in the group for a while.

Johnson and his wife Muriel plan to move Iowa City in May or early June to live close to their youngest daughter, Christina, to assist with her first child.

Johnson, a retired psychologist has played baritone nearly since the concert band’s inception in 1984, but his musical history goes back much further.

He began playing the baritone when he was in sixth grade-67 years ago-while attending school in Estherville.

“I didn’t choose the baritone,” said Johnson. “Mr. Ferguson, the band director, chose it for me.”

After a year, Johnson’s dad bought him a horn which he still plays today, including Monday’s concert.

“I’ve played other baritones, but I keep coming back to this one,” Johnson said.

He obviously enjoys playing over the years.

“When I was in high school, the band members didn’t get a lot of attention,” he said. “We weren’t recognized like the football, basketball and baseball players,” he said.

However of the members of the Class of 1954, he said he is the only one still pursuing an activity that began in elementary.

“I’ll always encourage young people to spend time at an activity that you never have to quit,” he said.

Over the years, the Northwest Iowa Concert Band has played in several different venues. His daughter Christina played flute in the band during her high school and college years. When she was wed, the band played polkas and waltzes at her reception.

The band also has honored members at the conclusion of their lives. The band played a concert in recognition of Jim Tribby, who taught middle school band in Estherville.

A few members played their instruments at Jack Benjamin’s funeral, a former tuba player whose son Scott plays trumpet and directs the Northwest Iowa Jazz Band.

In 2009, the concert band was planning a surprise performance for clarinetist Bill Wirtanen at his home. While Wirtanen died before the band could perform for him, members performed a tribute to him at his funeral including the fight and loyalty songs from Michigan State, his alma mater.

Johnson said that’s one of the things he enjoys about playing in the band.

“I enjoy the rehearsals as much as the performances-it’s the fellowship of those who are similarly minded,” he said.

Johnson does double band duty as he also plays in the Park Rapids Community Band in Minnesota.

Northwest Iowa Concert Band Director Rich Nicklay said he admires Johnson’s dedication to both bands.

“He travels back and forth to be in both places,” Nicklay said. Sometimes those trips are a day apart.

Johnson said the move to Iowa City may not be permanent. The couple is not selling their home.

Since Johnson retired, he’s tried to get his wife to move to Minnesota where the couple has a cabin. But after two or three weeks there, the couple returns to Estherville.

“Even with the pull of a grandchildren, it may not keep us away from Estherville,” he said.