It was the summer of 1995, right before college was to begin. While some of the others in my dorm were sleeping off their long nights, I was struggling to get out of bed. My cramping calf muscles brought me to my knees as I shuffled slowly to the doorway. It was about to be day two of Reg Week and I thought to myself, "this is band practice, right?"
As I began to peddle my bike off to practice, my legs slowly began to come back to life. After the long journey from Witte Hall down the Lakeshore Path, I joined the other band freshman. It was certainly quieter than it was the prior day as we stretched. Putting my trumpet up to my lips, I noticed how sore they were - not only from playing, but from banging my mouthpiece against my face as I (poorly) attempted to play as I marched. As I warmed up both my legs and lips, I coached myself what had been pounded into my head by the others around me: "Stop at the top! Stop at the top!"
The wiry man emerged from the top of a wooden tower. It only took him a second to climb it. He began barking immediately at us, organizing the 250+ students and going through what we would accomplish in the next few minutes. He demanded precision, effort, and excellence. It went on for almost two hours.
"DO IT AGAIN!"
The man descended from the top of his tower. Instantaneously. He coached and cajoled, and when he deemed appropriate, yelled. He seemed to know exactly how to handle each person without even knowing them...after all, he had been on the field all of about a day and a half and all I knew is that I didn't want him to yell at me. I also wanted to make him happy...or at least less frustrated, as he appeared to be on this day.
I had heard that this was supposed to be one of the best bands in the country. I had no idea why until I stepped on the field the previous day.
I wasn't particularly interested in studying. I did what I needed to do, coming out with a perfectly slightly better than average GPA. I finished in a major I had little interest in and abandoned my auditing career path after a year - after all, does anyone really like accounting?
What I can honestly say is that out of all of the professors I had, Mike Leckrone most positively shaped my college career. I haven't been back for an alumni band event, nor have I spoken to him in almost 20 years. I would figure there's literally thousands of us that feel the same way I do. Mike was my college experience.
Through Mike I learned perseverance, perspective, and positivity. We were told to "Eat A Rock" - to work as a team to accomplish a greater goal. To struggle was expected, appreciated.
"If it were easy, anyone could do it."
As I went through many experiences through the years with the band, people often would mention when Mike was going to retire. It was a reasonable assumption that he potentially could even retire during the time I went to school. My final year was 1999. It was a safe assumption that he could retire at any point, as he had at that time 30 years in as the director. A nice pension awaited him. He decided it wasn't time.
It is time now, however. The word "retirement" doesn't suit Mike. He decided when work was optional for him. He did, on his terms.
From my heart and many others, thank you Mike. You will be sorely missed by the University but never forgotten, and is a model to us all. Whatever the next stage of his life brings, we all know it will be a great success.
Image ID# S06289.