The gift of music: Dave Eby made a lasting influence
BALDWIN — More than five decades ago, when band director Dave Eby stepped on the podium, he began making a lasting influence on the community and the many students who went through his band program at Baldwin Community Schools.
Eby's successful band program, recognized statewide, became part of the fabric of the Baldwin area, and when he passed away on July 21, some former students paid tribute to him during the Scottville Clown Band concert at Troutarama, and others shared how he impacted their lives.
"Dave Eby began teaching in Baldwin when I was in eighth grade, in the fall of 1964," said Jim Truxton, Baldwin resident and village president. "He asked me, 'How would you like to play barry sax (baritone saxaphone).
"He gave me a shot, and this became a lasting influence on my life. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't have went to college for music, or taught band in Pine River in 1979 before starting my own business, or play music at my church or for the Scottville Clown Band and in music groups at West Shore Community College. Athletics are wonderful for people who like that, but how many at my age are still playing quarterback or proball."
Truxton said there was a pretty big list of kids who came through the band program.
"Baldwin band took on a very unique style. Rich Granger, band director at Shelby for years, said Dave was the perfect man for Baldwin at the time. He fit in with the community and worked his butt off. He developed the Alley Kats. When other bands wore four-piece wool uniforms, Alley Kats came out in a baby blue short sleeved sweatshirt and white Bermuda shorts, knee socks and tennis shoes. We stayed pretty cool in parades.
"Our sound was unique. There were times we had all brass instrumentation while marching. We were the poorest county in Michigan, but we had multiple-tune percussion and high-quality horns like E-flat soprano trumpets. The band started playing in parades around the state and getting paid to play in days that was unheard of. This helped buy instruments and gas on the road. The pep band played in schools all over.
"Dave demanded everything we had to give. A last chair clarinet working 100 percent was more respected by him than a first chair trumpet giving 50 percent. Kids were happy to produce. They would play during study hall and would practice sectionals during lunch hour. Through all the other turmoil of the times, band was a stable, caring and inviting haven."
Some highlights of the band was a trip to Vienna in 1973 and 1979 and a trip to Washington, D.C. in 1980. The community raised $40 to $50,000 for the first Vienna trip. The band also had album recordings for concerts in the late '60s and early '70s, something unheard of at that time, Truxton added.
As students got older the Super Kats developed, a more senior group. The Super Kats wore a blue shirt, navy blue pants and a beret. Eby turned Alley Kats over to Truxton.
"From Dave, I learned equally important as music is the self-discipline which comes from being a musician," Truxton said. "If you make a mistake, you learn to move beyond it. You learn not to let perfection get in the way of excellence."
Eby also composed some music. He wrote the "Dougie David March," named for his son, which he took to festival as a warm up march, but it wasn't qualified for festival.
"We had five class periods a week and a two-hour practice session on Thursday night. He rode the wheels off his '65 Mustang taking kids home all over the county," Truxton added.
Outside of the classroom, Eby also was active in the Scottville Clown Band. He played in the Chase Barton 3 and Gospel Sideman, arranging Dixieland gospel to play in churches around the area. He also was influential with helping to form motorcycle trails and snowmobile trails in the county.
Kim Tripp, a former student of Eby's who made a career of professional drumming, said he and his wife, Susan Bradford Tripp, were greatly influenced by Dave.
"Mr. Eby was a major inspiration in both our lives. We were in Mr. Eby’s bands from 1964-1972 at Baldwin Community Schools," Tripp said. "We will always cherish our friendships with Pat (Dave's wife) and Dave. Dave’s love of music, cars and motorcycles was always contagious. He was a wonderful mentor and friend. He is probably the reason I became a professional musician and I will always be grateful."
Baldwin resident Ernie Wogatzke, supervisor of Webber Township, said Eby impacted his life, and so many others.
"Dave got me in band in fourth grade, and I learned to play trumpet," he said. "He encouraged us to practice, have self-discipline, respect and camaraderie. He had a major impact on me, teaching me everyone in the world is equal in God's eyes.
"Our bus pulled into a restaurant, and we didn't know they would only serve whites. Half of the meals were finished cooking when we found out they would not serve the African-American students. Dave told everyone to get back on the bus, and there were 70 to 80 of us. We just left without having any of the meals. Dave was like our guardian angel and a great leader.
"Dave took us all over Michigan to big towns, and we played as far north as the Mackinac Bridge and as far south as Bowling Green, Ohio, where we were in a commercial for McDonald's. Sometimes we would march in three to four parades in one day, such as Manistee in the morning, then Scottville and Traverse City at the Cherry Festival. We played for Gov. William Milliken in Traverse City.
"Dave put Baldwin on the map. We were a high-demand item. We were a class D school playing class A music, and would get straight ones at festival. People couldn't believe a class D school could sound so professional. Dave gave us a lot of exposure to music, and at festival, we would know some of the site reading pieces, and everyone was amazed at how well we could play the piece."
Eby would help kids get music scholarships, and some went on to be drum majors in colleges. Wogatzke said at one time, there were more students in band than athletics, and sports fought over band for players. Also, instead of going to detention, kids were sent to Eby. If they didn't play an instrument, he would have them perform other tasks like marching as flag bearers.
"Dave was the man. If anyone should have a statue in Baldwin, it should be him. He was like a second father to all of us kids, no matter what income we had or what we looked like," Wogatzke said.
Eby taught at Baldwin Community Schools until 1992, but continued to stay very active in the community and involved in music.