Gawle is first Wilton schools Hall of Famer

—Hayden Turek photos
Students, colleagues, and friends and family of retiring 35-year Wilton High School band director and fine and performing arts instructional leader Frank ‘Chip’ Gawle gathered in the Clune Center for the Arts June 16, when he was made the first inductee into the Wilton Public Schools’ new Hall of Fame.
The night was carried by several speakers significant to the Wilton school system whose talks were punctuated with interludes provided by student jazz group The Black Tie Affair, with Tristan Clark on bass, Will Comer on piano, Elliot Connors on trumpet, Tommy Crimmins on drums, and Ben Senneff on vocals.

Master of Ceremonies Sam Gumins, a Wilton High School parent, began by lamenting the fact that many of the “approximately 2,000” students that have passed through Gawle’s famous program couldn’t make it to his recognition ceremony.

“But when those kids do return to Wilton, when they stop by to see Mr. Gawle, what’s kind of amazing is he’ll greet them — each and every one of them — by name,” Gumins said.

“They come back to Wilton not to see their families, not for some obligatory walk down memory lane or a meal at Orem’s; they come back to Wilton for a Chip Gawle hug, and it’s worth the trip,” he said.

Gumins introduced Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Smith, who called Gawle to the stage and presented him with a plaque in recognition of his induction.

“Chip’s positive and long-lasting impact on our school and our community cannot be overstated,” Smith said. “Though I feel like I’ve only started to get to know him, I’ve witnessed first-hand the profound force of nature that is Chip Gawle, and in reflecting on his life’s work, I think one of our students described his essence well: dedicated beyond belief.

“We have all been the beneficiaries of Chip’s unbelievable dedication, so given that, I find it incredibly fitting that we name Chip as the inaugural inductee into Wilton Public Schools’ new Hall of Fame,” Smith said.

After a standing ovation, Smith said, “So Chip, I want to say thank you again for your tremendous service and for so powerfully influencing so many lives. We are all better for having known you. Thank you.”

Wilton High School Principal Dr. Robert O’Donnell took the stage next. He thanked Gawle’s family before thanking Gawle himself.

“Thank you for selflessly sharing this lion in the jungle, this team player and captain who proclaimed that we are going to engage as many students as possible in building the best fine and performing arts program in the United States,” O’Donnell said. “He has fulfilled that promise as evidenced by our annual success at the Music Adjudication trip, and the numerous performances here in this very auditorium.

“In closing, I speak with the voice of thousands of your students and families, your supportive colleagues that are here this evening, and our administration when I say thank you for caring so much, and leaving this lasting legacy of excellence in the Wilton Public Schools’ fine and performing arts program, and specifically here at Wilton High School. We owe you a great debt of gratitude,” O’Donnell said.

Former Superintendent Dr. Gary Richards said, “When my wife and I attended the special Grammy recognition performance by the Wilton High School jazz group, we learned something that really proved what Chip’s students thought of him.

“He was daunted by the massive [Grammy] application process, but it was the students he mentored who independently volunteered to support him with the very elaborate application process, to make sure Chip Gawle was recognized as one of the greatest music teachers in America. I believe this says it all,” Richards said.

“I know I speak for so many grateful students, parents, colleagues, and community members when I say that you have left a mark on us all. Chip, congratulations on your retirement, your Grammy success, and on your induction into the Wilton High School Hall of Fame. Please accept our heartfelt appreciation for sharing your many gifts with us all these years. Thank you,” he said.

Former Superintendent Dr. David F. Clune, after whom the Clune Center for the Arts is named, was the last speaker before the man of honor himself took the podium.

He said, “So many wanted to be part of what Chip and his colleagues created, and that’s what education’s all about. He drew from thousands of kids and brought out the very best in them. How many can say that? Not many, but Chip has done it year in and year out.

“Chip, to paraphrase Thoreau, ‘May you continue to lead the life you’ve imagined. Go confidently in the direction of those dreams, weaving logic and imagination in the embracing web of the arts,’” Clune said.

“It is with deep admiration that I join each of you tonight, in honor of the conductor of the ‘Taj Magawle.’ May the spirit of the Taj Magawle and Chip Gawle live on,” he said lastly.

Gawle then took the stage to the sight and sound of another standing ovation, and said the following.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply moved, humbled, and honored by this incredible recognition. As I stand here tonight, I confess that I’m having a little trouble believing this reality, especially after hearing such eloquent accounts of what my career in Wilton meant to you.

“I have to thank my dear family — my mom, Janet, my wife, Patty, my son Ben and my daughter Sarah. I am indeed blessed with a strong and supportive family and it was in that spirit that I tried to encapsulate the essence of a quality program throughout my career here.

“I know that at times, my Wilton family took precedence, and I have a few regrets in terms of the way I prioritized, but Patty and Ben and Sarah always quickly healed my guilt by being so understanding, so forgiving, and so loving. No man could have a better family.

“Thank you all for helping me celebrate tonight. Thank you all for everything you did for your children, for the band, and for me. I have been blessed in so many ways and helped and strengthened by so many people in my family and this great community, and this night is one glimmering result,” Gawle said.

In the fall, the new Wilton Public Schools Hall of Fame, at Wilton High School, will be officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a ceremonial installation of Gawle’s plaque as the first entry into the honorious display.

The night ended with Gawle’s band rising from their seats in the auditorium to play him on his way.