Robert Renfroe was born and reared in Groesbeck, a small town in Central Texas, where he received his public education. Times were hard in the 30’s and many young boys spent many hours picking cotton to make money for school clothes.
Bob’s early band training was under Mr. Hubert Windell. When Mr. Windell left for military service, and no other director was available, young Bob was selected to keep the band together until a replacement could be found. Upon high school graduation he entered Sam Houston State Teachers College in the summer of 1945. Fellow Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame member, Dr. C. R. Hackney, was his director and early benefactor who helped him to find a job as the band hall janitor and dishwasher in the cafeteria, which was a definite step up from the cotton patch.
While lacking 15 hours for graduation at the age of 19, Bob received a temporary teaching certificate in 1947 and was employed by the Texas City School District as junior high band director and high school marching director. He completed his degree by correspondence and summer sessions. Mr. Alto Tatum was retiring in 1948 and Renfroe was offered the Gladewater directorship, however the Texas City schools refused to release Bob from his contract, and so began an association which was to last for 36 years.
Bob’s initial arrival in Texas City was in 1947, just three months after the disaster which had killed over 500 people. Many students had lost parents and relatives in the explosion, and the school district made every effort to support activities for students. The backing of the band is probably unsurpassed in the annals of school bands. The district was refining and oil processing rich. While some complained of the refinery odors, Bob always said that those fumes smelled like bass horns, French horns and trombones.
As Texas City grew, so did support for the band program. From a staff of two and about 125 students, the program expanded to a staff of six, ten private teachers and an enrollment of over one thousand students. In the early years Bob’s bands were strictly military in the 6 to 5 stride. To enhance his shows, Bob developed a new kind of drill--known as the Drill Leader Style of Marching. On Thursdays, the musicians fell in behind the drill leaders, known as the Stingarettes, and a new show was perfected in one rehearsal. This style met with much success and brought the Texas City Band many invitations including the first high school band to march in the new Rice Stadium. Later appearances were in Aggieland, the University of Houston, the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome, the Cowboys in Dallas, and the New Orleans Saints. The band’s second appearance in the Superdome resulted in a standing ovation which Bob considers the highlight of his career as a marching band director.
The Texas City concert bands were always well trained. Due to tremendous financial backing, Bob was able to secure the very best private teachers from such schools as Eastman School of Music, North Texas University, The University of Texas, Sam Houston and the University of Houston. This made it possible for high school students to perform the greatest symphonic literature possible and to be exposed to the finest guest conductors. Such men as Dr. William Revelli, Dr. Pete Wiley, Dr. Fredrick Fennell, James Matthews, Lt. Col. Arnold Gabriel and Col. Charles Brendler of the U. S. Navy Band all led the Texas City High School Band in concert during Bob’s tenure there.
Perhaps the most challenging performance for Renfroe was a trip to the Tri-State Band Contest in Enid, Oklahoma, at the age of 21 in 1949. The band was accorded First Division ratings in all competitions and First Place in the Million Dollar Parade. In 1955, the high school band traveled to Enid and was declared the Sweepstakes winner. Dr. Raymond Dvorak, one of the Judges and founder of the Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic, invited the band to perform in Chicago in 1956.
In 1964, the first Six Flags Over Texas Contest was held. Playing the Shostakovich Finale to Symphony #5, the band was declared the First Place winner. On the way to Dallas, Bob had the band stop off at his old high school in Groesbeck so his mother might hear the band.
In 1970, after competing in the Buccaneer Festival several times, the Texas City Band won the Outstanding Band Award and was again invited to perform at Mid-West. The group traveled to Chicago by special train with stops along the way to allow the students to play in the snow! The year of 1976 was our country’s Bicentennial Celebration, and the Texas City Band was invited to play a concert in the John F. Kennedy Center during Texas Week in the capital. This time, the band traveled to Washington, D.C. by chartered plane, accompanied by the mayor, school superintendent and many band parents.
At the end of the 1980 school year, Bob and his wife Betty decided it was time to make some changes and prepare for retirement. He stepped down to work at both middle schools and in the beginners program. Two years later, a call came from Woodville, and anxious to move to the Piney Woods in anticipation of retirement, Bob and Betty left Texas City after 36 years, and never looked back!
While Bob was just as successful at Woodville as he had been at Texas City, the long hours began to take their toll and riding yellow buses on Friday nights had lost its appeal. Bob retired in May of 1988 after 41 years of public school teaching without much thought as to how he would spend his time. He did not have to wait very long. The day after he retired, a call came from the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church. He wanted to know if Bob would be interested in becoming a local pastor and serving two small churches in his district. After serving as a country minister for three very rewarding years, Bob retired once more.
To date, Bob keeps busy filling in as an interim band director at various schools in the area. The Renfroes have three children. Son Rob was an All-State Oboist and is the senior pastor of the Mission Bend United Methodist Church in Houston. Second son, Mark, also an accomplished musician, lives in Miami and works for Northern Telecom. Daughter Gayle, an outstanding oboist and All-State Choir member, is the business manager of the CBS television station in Austin. The Renfroes celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary last year.