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Denton Mac "Denny" Whitley - Class of 2017

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Denton Mac Whitley was born on August 14, 1949, to Oscar Mac and Melodese Whitley in Paris, Texas. When Denny was in the first grade, his father passed away, leaving Melodese with three kids: Carol, sixteen years, Denny, six years, and Johnny, two years. Denny started band in the fourth grade in Honey Grove, TX. His sister Carol had played the alto saxophone in band throughout school so Denny started band using her instrument. His first band director was TBA Hall of Fame member Stanley Walker. Mr. Walker only stayed one year at Honey Grove. Whitley’s next band director was TBA Hall of Fame Member Tommy Neugent who stayed in Honey Grove for seven years. During his junior year of high school, Mr. Neugent taught Denny to do minor repairs on woodwind instruments and let him be a student director, where he first learned how to design a marching drill. Whitley credits Mr. Neugent for creating a desire to teach band and also to appreciate music.

Following graduation from Honey Grove High School in 1967, Whitley enrolled at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas (now Texas A&M University–Commerce), majoring in music education. Dr. Neill Humfeld was the ETSU band director, and Dr. James Deaton was the saxophone professor. Whitley credits both of these men for inspiring him to be the teacher he is today. He also met new friends who have remained close for over fifty years. Dr. Deaton introduced Denny to Hall of Fame member Gary Wells, who was a senior that year and was in charge of their saxophone quartet. Gary and Denny have remained lifelong friends. Also during this time, Denny and Jimmy Clifton became lifelong best friends who helped each other through many life and band director experiences. In 1970, Denny and Jimmy student taught together at Paris High School under TBA Hall of Fame member Floyd Weger, with Ken Griffin as the junior high director.

Denny graduated from ETSU in 1971 and became the band director at Timpson ISD where he taught for five enjoyable years. He was also the Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Timpson. The high school band consisted of students in grades 7 through 12. He became good friends with Mr. Herbert Eakin, the elementary principal who immediately became a mentor for him. For years Mr. Eakin had been the principal at Timpson High School and was a mentor to all of his teachers but especially to his band directors, who went on to become TBA Hall of Fame directors, Jimmie Hudgins, Pete Rodriquez, Wally Read, Kenneth Caldwell, and Bobby Goff. After his first year of figuring out what to do and how not to do it, the band became successful in marching, concert and sight reading contests. In 1973, the Bear Band competed in the Sea-Arama Southwest Band Festival in Galveston, winning superior ratings and being named Outstanding Class 1A Band. The band was named Runner-up Outstanding Band in all classes at the Fiesta of Five Flags Band Festival in Pensacola, Florida, in 1975. In 1976, the band made all first division ratings at the Six Flags Band Festival in Arlington, Texas, and was named Runner-up Outstanding Band in Class 1A. At Timpson, Whitley benefitted from the expertise and friendship of TBA Hall of Fame members Neil Grant of Tatum Music Company and Stanley Walker who had started him in the fourth grade at Honey Grove. Randy Dawson from rival Garrison High School was also a great friend and mentor as well. Denny really loved his students at Timpson and has kept a strong relationship throughout the years with many of them.

In 1976 Whitley accepted the band director position at Clarksville High School, where he taught for thirteen years. The first few years were focused on rebuilding, and after about three years the band began its successful journey in the world of music. Ben Fowzer was the junior high band director, and together he and Whitley spent thirteen years working with many great kids. The Tiger Band won superior ratings in 1979 at the Southwest Band Festival in Galveston and was named Outstanding Band in Class 3A. In 1981, they won superior ratings at the American Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, and were named Outstanding 3A Band on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1983, the band won Runner-up Outstanding 3A Band at the Worlds of Fun Band Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. They performed a concert at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in 1985, and in 1987 they performed in the Electric Light Parade in Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The Tiger Band returned to the American Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1989, where they were named Runner-up Outstanding 3A Band” 

In addition to being a band director, Denny also served as the Minister of Music at First Baptist Church Bogata, First Baptist Church Clarksville, and McKenzie Methodist Church in Clarksville. Whitley earned his Master’s degree in Educational Administration in 1983 and a mid-management certificate from East Texas State University, and in 1987 he served as both high school band director and assistant principal at Clarksville High School.
In 1989 Whitley became the head director at Whitehouse High School. There were only thirty-nine high school students signed up when summer band started that year; in about three weeks’ time, the band grew to fifty-four students. Each year the numbers grew, and by 2000 more than 200 students made up the high school band. This past year the band program at Whitehouse ISD consisted of 250 6th graders, 346 7th and 8th graders, and 310 high school band members. In 1989, there were two directors; there are now seven. During his twenty-eight years as Whitehouse High School band director, the Wildcat Band has made a superior rating at marching contest for twenty-six years and has won the coveted sweepstakes award for twenty-three years. The Wildcat Band takes a band trip every two years, alternating between marching the parade at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando and performing concerts at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Whitehouse band program has been blessed with supportive school administration, superintendents, principals, school board, and band booster club.
Whitley shares his success as a band director with all the excellent teachers who have worked alongside him, in particular the late Stanley Walker, Whitley’s fourth grade band director in Honey Grove. Following Walker’s retirement from Tatum Music Co. in 1999, he worked with Whitley at Whitehouse for five years. In 2000, Denny hired his best friend, Jim Clifton and his wife Beth as directors and they worked together for five years until they retired. Whitley also credits his success to mentors TBA Hall of Fame members Neil Grant, Mike Geddie, Pete Kunkel, Tom Neugent and Stanley Walker.

Whitley’s personal honors include being named Clarksville ISD Teacher of the Year in 1979, and Whitehouse ISD Teacher of the Year and Secondary Educator of the Year in 1995 and 2005. Also in 2005 Whitehouse Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year. Whitley has been president of TMEA Region XXI for the past five years, was vice president for three years, and was the TMEA Band Chairman for Region XXI for six years. In 2016, the Texas Bandmasters Association awarded him the Lifetime Meritorious Achievement Award for his outstanding service to music education. He is a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, the Texas Bandmaster’s Association, the Texas Music Adjudicators Association, and is a member of the National Honorary Band Fraternity Phi Beta Mu Alpha Chapter. He has also been a member of the Masonic Lodge for 45 years.

One of Whitley’s favorite quotes is “Your life is God’s gift to you, and what you do with it is your gift back to God.” Over the years many students were impacted by this lesson practiced in front of them each day. If you were to ask any of Denny’s students what kind of impact he had on their life you would hear the definition of what makes a man such as pride, respect, integrity, humor, love and overall a patriotic love for his country. Many students will say he taught them to make their best, better each and every day.

All of Whitley’s band students, both former and current, are very special to him. Several students have followed in his footsteps and made teaching music their profession, and he is proud of every one of them. He is so proud that his four children Steve, Randy, Melody and Jamey were able to be in his band and that he was able to start each one on their particular instrument. Most importantly he is proud to have had them more as assistant directors than just his students. They were leaders in the band program and even after graduating invested their time in seeing that their father continued to make his best, better every day, just as he had instilled it into their hearts throughout their lives.

Denny is so appreciative to his wife Regina who has stayed up to make grilled cheese sandwiches after late football games, has been “mom” to hundreds of kids on band trips and has constantly kept Denny on his best behavior at all times, which most know is a full-time job.

In 2005, Denny decided to retire from the world of band directing but as summer band approached he somehow had this crazy void inside of him that only hot pavement with painted yard lines in 100-degree weather, the great fragrance of sweat induced marching shoes and the joy of choosing pep rally songs could fill. So in the fall of 2005 he was back on the podium and taught for another twelve years, retiring at the end of the 2017 school year with forty-six years as a music educator. He would like to thank Phi Beta Mu Alpha Chapter and Texas Bandmasters Association for selecting him to the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame.

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