Eldon Janzen, longtime leader of the UA band, remembered as ... - Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Eldon Janzen, longtime leader of the UA band, remembered as ...  Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE -- W. Dale Warren admitted his mentor and friend Eldon Janzen was "kind of perfect."

Still, Warren added, "You can't pigeonhole him because he was so complex."

Warren, a professor of music education and director of the senior wind band at the University of Arkansas, was director of the Razorback Marching Band from 1991 to 2000.

Janzen, his predecessor, was the university's director of bands from 1970 to 1995.

Janzen, 94, died Dec. 10 in Owasso, Okla. The family plans services after the holidays.

Warren said he appreciated the mentorship and friendship Janzen shared.

"If he told you something, you knew it was 100% right."

Janzen was born March 21, 1928, in Medford, Okla. He was preceded in death by an infant daughter and his wife, Nelda Routon Janzen, whom he married in 1952. Survivors include a daughter, Jana Gorham, and husband David of Owasso; and a son, Jay Scott Janzen and wife Detra of Tyler, Texas.

Jana and David Gorham and Scott Janzen all followed in Eldon Janzen's footsteps and became band leaders.

"I used to hold the ladder for Dad at the football games when I was in junior high and high school," Jana Gorham said. "He seemed like a giant to me, and I was convinced that I was solely responsible for his safety as he conducted pregame and halftime. His 6-foot, 2-inch frame and size 15 feet seemed daunting, and he conducted with vigor."

"He was ultra humble," Warren said. "He spoke softly but carried a big stick.

"And he treated the undergrads like paid musicians."

And most mentoring came when Warren and Janzen were in the car going to lunch or over at the Janzen house for dinner.

"He would ask a question about something -- to see where you were. Then he would say, 'Have you ever considered ... ?'"

Scott Janzen said his dad was the same kind of father as he was a teacher.

"He was patient, supportive and always dependable," Scott wrote in an email. "He never raised his voice in anger, and he never 'preached.' He showed us every day how to live a life of integrity.

"I remember my dad as a true leader, and the positive influence he made on countless others."

Scott Janzen recalled his father's unselfishness and willingness to do for others. Even after retirement, Eldon Janzen would help hopeful college students further their education by establishing a scholarship fund. And he volunteered at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville by washing dishes and collecting bread from local bakeries to help feed the homeless.

Eldon Janzen's family was always very important, and they traveled with the band, "making up in part for the time away from family that being a band director requires," said Chalon Ragsdale, a UA percussion professor. "They were the most important people in his life."

"As a musician, Eldon was a meticulous crafter of detail in performance, with the best set of ears I've ever been around," Ragsdale said.

Janzen hired Ragsdale as assistant band director in 1975, and the men worked together from 1975 to 1995, when Janzen retired.

"His sense of tone quality from the individual instruments, and of balance from the various sections of the band (woodwind, brass, percussion) gave his bands a unique velvety sound that could be intimate or powerful as the music required," Ragsdale said.

As well as directing the bands at the university, Janzen taught courses on conducting, band literature and senior methods -- or "how to be a band director," Ragsdale said. Janzen wrote the text for the class -- "The Band Director's Survival Guide" -- which continues as the best-selling, most-used text and the standard against which other such texts are measured, Ragsdale said.

Janzen's conducting students include Tim Rhea, who now directs the music program at Texas A&M University, including the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

The recognitions, honors and awards were many, friends and family shared.

Eldon Janzen received a bachelor's degree in education from Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College and a master's degree from North Texas State University.

Janzen was born into a very musical family, Jana Gorham said. His mother and father sang, and his dad was the choir director at their Mennonite church.

Gorham noted Janzen started in band in the fourth grade on cornet.

"But later switched to trombone -- probably because he had long arms and could reach seventh position," Gorham wrote in a remembrance of her father. In high school, Janzen also sang in the glee club and played right tackle on the undefeated, 1946 Class C Champions, the Medford Cardinals.

"However, when it came time for college, he was ready to hang up his cleats and focus on music," Gorham said. "He turned down the 'full ride' scholarship he was offered to play football, and accepted the $25 scholarship to play in the band."

In 1969, Janzen was director of music activities at Irving (Texas) Public Schools when he got a call from Robert Bright, the then-band director at Arkansas Tech University, about the director's job at the University of Arkansas.

Gorham also remembered the family cheering for the Dallas Cowboys. After retirement, Janzen meticulously restored Ford Mustangs from the mid-1960s.

Janzen also is remembered as a perfectionist. Ragsdale tells about a time the band was rehearsing on marching fields that were lined incorrectly.

"Even if only by inches, the fields would drive him to distraction," Ragsdale said.

When the Razorbacks played in the New Orleans Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1979 season, the first rehearsal field was knee-deep in mud, Ragsdale related.

"So Eldon loaded the band up and took them to a different field," he said. "That one was lined incorrectly, so they loaded up again."

The third field, in a civic park, was the charm.

* This article was originally published here

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