St. John's leader of the band retires after 40 years

By Terry Spradley
St. John News
St., John Kansas April 21 2009

At the end of the 2009 school year, St. John band instructor Bill Clausing will have completed 40 years, as teacher, coach, and leader of the band. After 40 years, “a good round number,” he will be hanging up his baton.

As leader of the band at USD350, Clausing has had a very good run. His junior high bands have scored a 1 rating in contest for 34 years straight. The high school band has received a 1 rating 23 of 34 years. In 2009, the sixth grade band received a 1, the junior high a 1+, and the high school band received a 1 at league contest. They are currently trying for their 24th 1 rating at state contest this week.

“I feel really fortunate to have had a great bunch of kids throughout the years,” he said. “We’ve maintained a really good tradition. I taught in Oklahoma six years, and this is my 34th year in St. John so when I finish here in a couple months, I will have 40 years. It just seemed like a good round number.”

While many know Clausing as the school’s band director or the man behind the soulful saxophone playing the star spangled banner at Tiger basketball games, many may not know where that sax got its start.

n 1952, when he was five-years-old, his family migrated to the United States from Stokendrebber Germany.

His father was a mason and bricklayer. After arriving in the United States he worked heavy construction. When the family arrived in the U.S. they did not speak any English, but that didn’t stop his father from carving out a good life for the family.
His father worked for a year just for food for the family. Later he found employment in Brooklyn as a mason, and a manager of a small apartment complex until the family saved enough money to purchase some land in Long Island where his father built the family home.

During his high school years Clausing played in a band called The Crestmen. He said they were quite good and made a couple of singles that did pretty well locally. After a time some of the band members moved on to other things and the group reformed with some new members and the new name of Untamed.

“We were together for several years,” he said. “We had gotten a really good manager and played in some of the big clubs on Long Island.”

The band got a contract as a house band in one of the big arenas in the area. Clausing said they performed with some of the big name bands of the time that were touring the country. Untamed would practice with the headliner bands during the day, then perform with the groups playing the intro music as they came on stage, and played backup for the acts. The arena held approximately 10,000 people, and it was usually full.

“They would bring in 10 or 15 of the top 20 acts on the pop charts,” he said. “I got to work with the Statler Brothers, the McCoys, who did Hang on Sloppy, the Trogs, that did Wild Thing. It was a variety of acts. We backed up the Tokens, that did the Lion sleeps tonight, Jay and the Americans, a real popular band at the time. There were so many of them.”

Later the band moved on to perform in Greenwich Village for six months working with acts like Bob Dylan and the Lovin’ Spoonfuls. They performed on the radio, and even picked up a deal to work with United Artists recording several records that did pretty well in the east coast bars, but never really broke it big.

“The money was so good, as a kid, I just kind of stopped going to college,” he said. “I was working the band and we were working about six nights a week, and traveling on a plane.”

As he was thinking that he need to return to school and finish his college an old friend that was going to school in Oklahoma called him out of the blue while home for Christmas. He suggested Clausing come out to Oklahoma to finish his last two years at Northwestern and they could start a band out there.

“I did my paperwork, sent my transcripts from New York to Northwestern College and got accepted,” he said. “I was coming home from a rehearsal and came across an accident. I saw my dad’s truck out there. He passed away by early hours of the next morning, and things just changed. I came out here, finished my last two years and started teaching.”

Clausing’s father was killed by a drunk driver in the accident.

Clausing said he loved music and he loved performing, but he has never regretted leaving the stage and getting into teaching.

“It’s fun to be out there in front of people doing that kind of stuff,” he said. “But really I’ve never regretted it, never looked back. My whole life has been filled with wonderful experiences and so many people. If I had not got into teaching I would been involved with so many young people’s lives and see them do so many wonderful things with their lives.”

He said you can’t put a price tag on the joy he feels when students come back and tell him what they’ve done with their lives.

While in teaching in Oklahoma, Clausing met his wife, Rita. The couple had one daughter, Erika, who was born a couple years after they moved to St. John.

Clausing worked as a teacher in Waynoka Oklahoma for four years. The friend that convinced him to move to Oklahoma graduated about the same time as Clausing, and later took a job in Kansas. Clausing said he and Rita wanted to venture out on their own, and his old friend told him he should look into moving to Kansas.

“When I got married he kept telling me I should come up to Kansas it’s a god place to work,” he said. “There was an opening here in St. John. We liked the community real well, and thought it would be a good place to raise a family, and start a life. So we made the move here (in 1975), and have stayed.”

Since that time, Clausing has been St. John’s leader of the band(s).

“”In the 23 years I’ve been in education, I don’t think I’ve worked with anybody that had his dedication,” said High School Principal Mike Burgan. “He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. It doesn’t matter whether he’s working with 60 (students) or 70, or 10, whatever is going on , the end product is going to be there. That’s a credit to him. Sometimes it looks like chaos, but when it’s time for performance it always gets done.”

Along with his teaching duties he has also served the community and district as the Tiger’s tennis coach. He always played tennis, and the schedule worked out well with his band schedule. His dedication to the program is evident as he and Rita labor on the courts before a match, sweeping the sandy surface and picking up trash around the court.
The 2008 schedule was his 12th year as coach. Clausing said he would like to return as the coach next year, but that would be up to the administration and board of education members.

The baton did not fall far from the tree as his daughter works as the band instructor at Southwestern Plains/Kismet. Later this month the St. John band will be going out to Kismet to do a father/daughter concert. Clausing said that will be a special thing for him, and it will be interesting in that the both schools won the state girls’ basketball championships and many of the members of the band at both schools were also members of the teams.

“We’re going out to do this final concert, and many of the state championship players will be on the stage at the same time,” he said.

The high school bands final concert in St. John will be the Dessert concert at 7 p.m., May 5 in the high school gym.

“I just want to thank the community of St. John for believing in me and allowing me to be the band director representing the community all these years,” he said. “I couldn’t be where I am if it I didn’t have the support of all the different families, and the community.”

Clausing said he is ready to spend some time traveling, and enjoying his hobbies of fishing and woodworking. However, contrary to the Dan Fogelberg song, the leader of the band is not tired and his eyes have not yet grown old, but there are many that have passed through the doors of St. John High School that may say his blood runs through their instruments, and his song is in their soul.

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