When Larry Albrecht arrived in Fennimore over 30 years ago, there was not much to the Fennimore High School band. As anyone who has witnessed a Mean Machine performance can attest, the band has come a long way.
In his efforts to improve the band, Albrecht did what he had to do and saw it through without exemption. He planned each charted course and each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, he did it his way.
“When I got here in Fennimore, the band was really small,” Albrecht recalls. “They gave me the freedom to let me go my way and do it my way, and it has worked ever since.”
When the selection committee for the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Scholarship and Fellowship Program announced recipients of the 2013 Herb Kohl Foundation awards for students and teachers earlier this month, “Albrecht’s way” paid off.
Albrecht was named a recipient of a 2013 Herb Kohl Foundation Fellowship. He was one of only two teachers in the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) No. 3 district to be awarded a Fellowship.
The $1,000 awards are being made to 100 teachers, their schools, and 187 graduating high school students throughout Wisconsin.
“I was very impressed when I found out I was nominated by Mr. Nutter,” Albrecht said. “I thought this was a really cool thing.
“I didn’t think maybe I would get it. I was really impressed. It is really a great thing and I am honored.”
Fellowship recipients are chosen for their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others, and for their leadership and service within and outside the classroom. Each Fellow’s school will also receive a $1,000 grant.
“We at Fennimore have known for years that Mr. Albrecht is an exceptional teacher who has instilled the love of learning music in a great number of students,” Fennimore High School Principal Dan Bredeson said.
Excellence Scholarship and Fellowship recipients are selected by a statewide committee composed of civic leaders, and representatives of education-related associations and the program’s co-sponsors, which include the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools (WCRIS), and regional CESA.
The Kohl Foundation Scholarship and Fellowship program was established by Herb Kohl, retired U.S. Senator, in 1990. To date the foundation has awarded $8.2 million to Wisconsin educators, students and schools.
“Education is the key to the future of Wisconsin and our nation. I am very proud of the accomplishments of these students and teachers, and look forward to the great contributions they will make in the future,” Kohl said.
Letters notifying recipients of the award were mailed by the Herb Kohl Foundation on March 1, 2013. Albrecht will be honored at a regional recognition luncheon on Saturday, April 6 in Monona.
“We are very happy for Mr. Albrecht getting the award,” District Administrator Jamie Nutter said. “It is a pretty nice honor for him.”
What is the secret to Albrecht’s success?
“I have no secret, it is just who I am,” he replied. “I go to these classes and all these big, band director types tell how we are supposed to do it.
“I go, ‘that won’t work for me.’ I have got to do it my way. I do it my way and it has been successful.”
Albrecht, who is partial to jazz ensembles, does take pride in the performance of Fennimore’s pep band, also known as the Mean Machine.
“The kids really enjoy pep band and that is a great learning tool for the other aspects of our band,” he said. “For me, I am into the jazz ensemble a lot. That style bleeds over to the pep band and we have a real jazzy style for a pep band.
“I often say a lot of bands can play the right notes, but you have got to play the style too, and that makes it special.”
During the 2012-2013 basketball season, the Mean Machine provided an assist to the Barneveld pep band.
“I have small numbers in our high school band and I’ve been fighting negative comments other students directed at students in the band,” Barneveld band director Aaron Cooley said. “I’ve been trying, trying, trying to get our kids excited for pep band.”
When it comes to students being excited for pep band, Fennimore’s are tops.
“It is all about being able to perform in front of people,” Albrecht said. “We perform in front of people a lot, so we don’t want to put out something that is not very good.
“It is no fun to be bad at something, but it is really fun to be good at something. We have a lot of fun because we feel we are pretty good at what we do.”
Hoping to “light a fire” under his pep band, Cooley e-mailed Barneveld community band members. A member of the community band, Brian Hoehne, is a Fennimore High School graduate.
Word of Barneveld’s plight spread to Albrecht and colleague Nate Myhre, IT Systems Manager, who is a high school classmate of Cooley’s.
Late last year, approximately 20 members of the Mean Machine traveled to Barneveld to lend a hand to the Golden Eagles’ pep band.
“Suddenly one night we had a pep band in Barneveld with about 40 people,” Cooley said. “My kids were finally excited and excited about playing.
“They learned band can be cool, that it is fun and that it is not lame.”
A 2004 graduate of River Ridge High School, Cooley was familiar with Albrecht’s works prior to the recent assist.
“Larry has been a role model,” Cooley said. “He was one of the reasons I went into band.
“He has always been a guy to look up to, and willing to help out when he can.”
When Barneveld advanced to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 5 girls state basketball championships, Barneveld’s pep band again welcomed members of the Mean Machine.
“This was just a hoot,” Albrecht said. “Barneveld supplied our tickets into the game and our transportation from Barneveld to Green Bay and back.
“Our administration let us do it. It was just a great, great day on Thursday. We took about 20 kids and performed with their band and it was really fun.”
With the help of the Mean Machine, Cooley feels better about the future of the Barneveld pep band.
“I can’t say enough about Larry’s willingness to take kids and show them music can be fun, and cool, and something worthwhile,” he said. “The difference here is night and day.”
Cooley believes Albrecht was a deserving choice for a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship.
“It couldn’t have been awarded to a more deserving person,” he said. “Larry always puts his kids first. He has very high expectations and he is not going to settle for mediocre.”
While Cooley was inspired by Albrecht, Albrecht found inspiration in music role models of his own.
“There a lot of people that got me to where I am today,” he said. “When I was growing up I marched in competitive drum and bugle corps, and that had a big impact on me.
“My college band director, Dr. John Alexander, was a great influence. He was also my trumpet teacher in college and he was a fireball type of guy. It was really great to play under him.”
Albrecht explained he is grateful for the abundant alumni, community, parent, and staff support of the band in Fennimore.
“The kids see that it is a lifelong love of music for people like Nate and Kathy Nemec, not just when they are in high school, and that is so important,” he said. “The students who go beyond high school and play are the special kids, because you know you had a great impact on them.
“Don’t quit right after high school. Don’t put the instrument away and never touch it again. We don’t want that.”