View from Glen Hill: John Rhodes will be sorely missed

Conducting award-winning Wilton Schools’ concert and jazz bands and creating Wilton High School’s unique “dancing” marching band that is so well-known and highly regarded are but a few aspects of the publicly visible array of dedicated contributions made by John Rhodes over his more than four decades of teaching here.

Yet much of what John has so richly and selflessly contributed is not visible to the public eye even as it has had such an enormous impact on so many. His knowledge of music and of a vast range of performance on music instruments is astounding, and his deep care and concern for students and wonderful mentoring and support of them sets a magnificent example. One sees that example reflected throughout the ranks of the teachers in the music department of each of our schools in a nationally recognized program of musical excellence. From youngest grade levels through high school, a remarkable cadre of music educators have joined, and stayed with, our schools during John’s tenure including two of John’s former students: Janet Nobles and Chris Johnson. As Chip Gawle, Marty Meade, and John’s other music department colleagues (present and past), are first to acknowledge, John is enormously supportive and caring, visionary in planning, exceptional in execution of those plans, and always thinking of the needs of others before his own.

John’s record of accomplishment is really astonishing. As but one example, he has been a leader in the well-planned and beautifully executed long-term extension of sophisticated instrumental education and performance into ever-lower grade levels right down to elementary school. The vision for this extension was extraordinary, but so was the hard work that enabled that daunting vision to be realized. John has also been “on the ground” in the details of everyday excellence wherever his help is needed or simply useful — and well above and beyond his normal duties: in musicals, operettas, and other productions, in the annual Memorial Day Parade supporting and helping the Wilton High School Marching Band, and in multiple other roles behind the scenes that many individuals can describe in part but that no person other than John himself can know in their full range.

John exemplifies what great teaching is about. What he did for my kids in music two decades and more ago has been replicated many times over both before and since — including right up to John’s mid-70s as he has stayed on to assure an orderly transition through the major and close-in-time retirements of Messrs. Gawle and Meade, two other outstanding examples of the exemplary educators in the music programs across our schools. These teachers care passionately about their students and give extraordinarily of themselves, far beyond their job descriptions and requirements — going to the heart of what it most fundamentally means to be an educator.

Wilton High School senior Maya Fazio wrote an impressive Warrior Words column in this newspaper a month ago. She described her experiences with Wilton teachers who give of themselves in many ways outside of the classroom as well as within it. These are teachers who “care to know about my interests outside of academics;” “reassure me that my hard work does not go unnoticed and let me know that that they are proud of me;” “recognize when I’m not my usual self” and offer “a safe place for me to go if life gets overwhelming;” “take time out of their free period to sit and teach me a section I don’t understand;” and “remind me that it is not always necessary to be perfect” and that “it is OK to reach out for help when you need it.”

She concludes, “High school is hard both mentally and emotionally at times, and having a teacher who expands your knowledge (even if sometimes it doesn’t directly correlate to their lesson plan), cheers you on, is adaptable, and is there for their students makes all the difference during that journey.”

John Rhodes for the better part of half a century has been that type of teacher. These teachers are a key part of what gives us such great pride in our Wilton schools and makes those schools the centerpiece of our collective town resources. John’s example speaks legions to his fellow teachers as well as to his students. He will be sorely missed.

Correction: In a recent column, I referenced 10 nanometers in relation to the size of an atom; atoms in fact range in size from 0.1 to 0.5 nanometers, as Bob Russell kindly pointed out to me.