Southern Aroostook’s longtime band director retires on high note

7 years ago

DYER BROOK, Maine — Music has been a part of Kermit McGary’s life for as long as he can recall. 

For 35 years, McGary has kept the beat going at Southern Aroostook Community School, teaching music to youngsters from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. He also taught one year at Schenck High School in East Millinocket.

“I spent three years at Southern Aroostook and then took a job at East Millinocket,” he said. “After one year, my old job opened back up and so I reapplied and was fortunate enough to come back home. I got lucky. I think [SACS] is where I was meant to be.”

McGary, who retired at the end of the school year, is a 1977 graduate of SACS and obtained his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Maine at Orono in 1981.

“The time was right for me to retire,” he said. “Every retired teacher I spoke with told me, ‘You will know when it’s time.’ And they were right. It sort of hit me like a two-by-four.”

McGary said his decision to get done had nothing to do with any direction the school was taking.

“Our music program was going very well,” he said. “I always said I wanted to leave on a high note. I didn’t want to stay around and overstay my visit. The hardest thing was telling the kids.”

RSU 50 Superintendent Todd LeRoy said the district will be filling McGary’s position and received their first application on Tuesday, July 11.

“Kermit is a wonderful teacher,” LeRoy said. “My office is right next to the band room. We have had the chance to hear first hand the improvements his students have made. He has positively impacted the lives of so many kids it is hard to even imagine. Though we are looking to fill the position, we will never be able to replace Kermit.”

At SACS, McGary taught music to pre-kindergarteners through sixth graders, and band to students in grades 5-12.

“It took me a few years, but once I learned that if I treated the little ones like my favorite grandkids they treated me like their favorite grandfather,” he joked. “That class became the highlight of my week.”

Teaching music has evolved over the years, he said. When McGary started teaching there was a greater interest in music because there was simply less to do.

“Kids are growing up in a completely different era these days,” he said. “I have a love-hate relationship with technology. Kids used to go home and practice their instruments, but now they go home and play on computers. It’s hard to keep kids practicing.”

A skilled saxophonist, McGary said he had to be versed in all instruments in order to be able to teach lessons to students.

Five individuals influenced McGary greatly– Joe Robinson, Henry Watson, Fred Heath, Leon Hall and Peter Carr.

Robinson was the owner of a music store in Houlton and sold McGary a saxophone that he still uses today. Watson was a teacher of McGary’s in high school that held his students to high standards. Heath was McGary’s college band director at the University of Maine Orono. Hall was a colleague who had a successful band program in Ashland. And Carr worked with McGary for several years, helping with advanced lessons for the more skilled players.

In addition to music, McGary also started teaching a photography class at the school which allowed him to delve into another one of his passions. For many years, McGary worked as a photographer, shooting weddings and portraits during breaks in his teaching.

“I had an interest, there was some time in my schedule, and the school was looking at other things to offer,” he explained. “It became a pretty popular class. It was a natural progression.”

McGary lives in Smyrna with his wife Amber. They have two adult children — Stephanie and her husband Phillip Tremblay of Cohasset, Massachusetts, and Evan McGary, who resides in Calais with his girlfriend Allison Longtin.