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Jerry Finnell - Class of 2008

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Growing up in the small oil field town of Holliday, Texas, Jerry Finnell got his first taste of music from his brother Gil, a child piano prodigy. While just in his early teens, Gil went off to band camp at University of North Texas, where the well-known Professor Graham stumbled on him playing in the corner and ended up featuring him playing the three-minute waltz in his ‘Fessor Graham Stage Show’, where big-name performers like Pat Boone got their break. The Finnell family still likes to recount this bit of family legend and laugh about how ‘Fessor Graham, quite the character, stood behind Gil chanting “Go, go, go…” to get him through that waltz in three minutes. Jerry would eventually follow in his footsteps, and play saxophone in ‘Fessor’s Graham’s colorful pit band the Aces of College Land. Gil not only inspired Jerry with his piano playing, but he encouraged all of the siblings to strive for high musical goals. Although Gil would go on to teach law at the University of Houston, he always kept his interest in music.

While Gil inspired Jerry’s passion for music, his high school band director Wayne Boone challenged him to be an outstanding player. Wayne’s belief that Jerry could make the All State Band encouraged him to practice even harder. Jerry not only made All State Band three years, but he was chosen first chair All State Band in his senior year. In the summers, Jerry attended band camp at Midwestern University, where he met many fine teachers like Eldon Sonnenberg and JW King who he not only respected but also hoped to emulate. To add to his experience in band he took a train to the great Gunnison, Colorado, band camp. He reminisces about this experience with Ray Lashaway who played in the jazz band with him at the camp and also in the All State Band. Meanwhile, summer at home could not have been more different; Jerry toiled on a farm driving a combine harvesting the wheat for his uncle, and later worked on his dad’s oil field trucks. After hours of back-breaking work, Jerry quickly learned that this was not the type of work he wanted to do for the rest of his life. As the president of the school board, Jerry’s father really stressed the importance of education, despite not having had the chance to go to college himself. A hard worker, his father built his own business by hand, turning one oil-field truck into thriving a business of twelve trucks.

With his father’s encouragement, Jerry enrolled at North Texas State College. He played in the marching band, concert band, jazz band, and often played in the campus band or reading band. Around this time, Jerry’s first daughter Julie Anne was born. Even with this new addition to the family, Jerry went to school full-time and graduated with a masters degree in four years. In 1964 he got a call from Mr. McAdow that a director from far West Texas wanted to drive to Denton to interview him for a job. The director hired him to work at Monahans and it turned out to be one of the best teaching situations in Texas. The Big Green Band under Dan Gibbs was one of the top marching bands in the state. Dan was a great mentor to him his first year of teaching and his influence was instrumental in Jerry’s development as a teacher. Tommy Fry and Maurice McAdow also worked with the band many times, helping it come into its own. Meanwhile, Jerry’s family continued to grow with the addition of his second daughter Laura Lynn, who would follow her father’s musical lead and become a professional bassoonist.

In 1969 Don Hanna left Crockett Junior High in Odessa and Jerry moved to that position where the band really proved to have a lot of pride and spirit. As he learned how much work it took to compete in Odessa, the band grew into a successful ensemble. Jerry met and became good friends with WT students Randy Storie, Dick Clardy, and Jack Nall who all were great contributors to the program. Bill Dean and JR McEntyre also provided excellent support and clinics for the band. During this time Jerry’s two sons James David and John Spencer were born and would later learn to love and play music like their father. Meanwhile, on summer breaks, Jerry was working band camps in Alpine, Wichita Falls and Canyon, where he really learned a lot about teaching various instruments from Dr. Gary Garner in his daily clinics. Gary also brought in many of the best clinicians in the nation. Jerry eventually developed a friendship with Tony Anderson, one of the camp’s master teachers, who was a great help with music selection. Randy Storie told Jerry about the great opportunity to teach in Plano where he had taught one year. In 1974 Emmett Clem hired Jerry as director of the Haggard band, where he taught an all-9th grade band one year and a 7th – 9th grade band the second year. In 1976 he moved to Vines High School where he worked with 9th and 10th grade students and ultimately taught there for 27 years. Vines, with its fine private lesson program, was a great place to teach. Jerry was able to hire his good friend and first-rate teacher Ken Valliant to take over the Haggard Middle School, his main feeder. Ken won Honor Band and always taught many of the best students that were in the Vines band.

During Jerry’s 40 years of teaching his Vines band won 33 sweepstakes, including sweepstakes the last 25 years. The Vines band was also a winner at many Six Flags, Astroworld, and Fiesta Texas festivals. In 1996, Jerry was voted Teacher of the Year for Vines High School. He also is a member of several organizations, including Texas Bandmasters Association, Texas Music Educators Association, Phi Beta Mu, Phi Mu Alpha, and Texas Music Adjudicators Association. As his career has grown, Jerry’s family has doubled in size as well. Jerry married his wife Susan, after both had been widowed and lost the loves of their lives. Jerry’s wife and sweetheart Terry, a Plano teacher, died of an aneurysm. Susan lost her husband and true love Don, a former assistant DA in Dallas, about the same time to cancer. Having a mutual respect for each other’s love for their deceased spouses, Susan and Jerry mended each other’s hearts.

During the time they were dating Susan asked Jerry to a party at her law firm where Jerry had a chance encounter with a fellow musician. While looking around the room at 50’s party he spotted a man with an All State Band patch on his letter jacket. Jerry eventually discovered it was Mark Magalow who he had competed against in high school for All State two years. Mark, who was first chair All State his senior year after Jerry graduated, is a fine player and continues to play in jazz groups around Dallas while he practices law.
Meanwhile Jerry and Susan continued to date and decided that they would like to see if marriage would work out with eight kids. After hitting Susan twice with the tennis ball while playing tennis Jerry was afraid the marriage was off. She finally forgave him even with the imprint of the ball on her chest. On the first night home after their honeymoon, reality suddenly hit. As Jerry was walking down the hall to go to bed he heard a very loud determined voice ask, “Mom, what is Jerry doing here?” Susan quietly replied, “He lives here now.” In an even louder voice they heard, “He lives here?” The laughter and good times only continued, and eventually Susan’s inquisitive five-year old Natalie, and her sisters Amanda, Jennifer and Emily finally agreed that Jerry could live there.

The family has weathered tears as well as joy, especially when they lost Jerry’s oldest daughter Julie Ann in 1987. She is always in their thoughts. The family has continued to grow as well, most recently with Natalie’s two additions Aidan and Grace.
Jerry’s son David has followed in his dad’s footsteps as a band teacher, while John has earned a master in environmental science and almost completed his NMD and PhD in naturopathy and herbal medicine. Susan continues to be Jerry’s best friend, lasting love, and also one of the best lawyers is Dallas. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas and has been listed in Texas Monthly several times as one of the best estate planning and trust lawyers in Dallas. Their combined family has been a special gift. They feel blessed to have met and merged two families.

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