A Teacher, Coach, and Captain

October 5, 2008
By Kathleen O'Donnell, Jim Thorpe, PA

“Hello, this is your captain speaking.” Those words used to scare me. It always meant something bad might happen. The plane would be experiencing turbulence for the next three – to-five miles, something like that. On an early April morning during my 8th grade year, those words took on a whole new meaning because of the person who spoke them. In my young, 13 year-old opinion, Mr. Allen Frank was the most amazing individual I had ever met. That Friday, in the spring of 2005 as the Jim Thorpe High School Band embarked on an adventure to Cleveland, he became much more than a band director to me when his voice crackled over the shoddy bus loudspeaker announcing himself as our captain.

At 5:00 am, 50 people loaded luggage and instruments onto the charter bus. I became awake with anticipation for the next 4 days, and I reflected on the last 8 months that I’d known Mr. Frank. I couldn’t help but smile as I recalled marching band practice in the hot august sun, and after school concert band in dead of winter. Mr. Frank always had something to share, a story, a song, even a life lesson. I felt so lucky to have the privilege of learning something from him every day. Though still in the 8th grade, I had been given the opportunity to be in the high school band. With a director like Mr. Frank, I couldn’t be happier to be a part of anything else.

While in Ohio, we visited places like the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. We also performed for judges at a university in Cleveland. As I look back on that week in the Midwest, the strongest memory I have didn’t take place at one of those amazing places we went to, but at the Fun Times entertainment center on the go-kart track. I was trying to be cool and make a sharp turn with one hand, when I crashed into the curb. Giggling, I tried to regain control of my vehicle as my friend, Ben stopped short of rear-ending me. Next thing I knew, Mr. Frank was speeding past Ben and I, his voice booming with laughter.

Mr. Frank had the best personality. He was always saying something positive and always had a smile on his face. His brilliant one-liners and jokes also made him one of the funniest people I had known. I never knew that a single person could be so happy doing something, especially something that was a career. Mr. Frank’s love of life radiated from every action he made and every sentence he said.

Mr. Frank had a passion for music, and teaching it, that I’ve never met in anyone else. He wanted, more than anything, for people to love life because of the music that we share. I recall him taking personal time to spend individually with me while I worked on music. He never became frustrated when I couldn’t get something right at first. Instead, he helped me work through it. Mr. Frank taught me that music is something everyone understands no matter how different people are from one another, that it truly is a universal language. His joy and love of band triggered my dreams of being a professional musician. I worked hard to reach my goal while I knew him and had him to guide me. On that trip to Ohio, half a year before I entered high school, I saw life in a new light. I understood better why people act the way they do. I realized that when someone is doing what they love to do, it never seems like a job.

Less than sixth months later, in the fall of my freshman year of high school Mr. Frank sat the entire marching band down after a late football game. He announced that he would be leaving our school at the Christmas break to teach closer to home with hopes of starting a family. I still remember that night like it was yesterday. In my wet, snowy band uniform, I sank to my chair as sadness overwhelmed me. I cried for three straight days. The worst part of this devastation is that I understood exactly why he was doing it, and I could not be mad. He worked too hard and too long at a school an hour from his home. It was completely understandable, but unfair at the same time. Over the next couple months, the band practiced harder and better than ever. We had to leave him with the best concert we could before he moved on.

Saying goodbye to Mr. Frank was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was letting go of so much more than someone close to my heart. It was letting go of a whole part of my life, and some of the happiest times I’d ever spent. That Christmas, I had to cope with the fact that he would not be coming back. I would no longer have the teacher, coach, and captain I’d learned to love in a year and a half.

Throughout the past three years, since I last had Mr. Frank for class, my goals and dreams have drastically changed. I no longer want to pursue a career as a professional musician, but I know he would not be disappointed in me. He would want me to follow my heart and do what I truly love doing. Music is still the biggest part of my life, and I owe that to Mr. Frank. If he had never allowed me to see the impact music has on every aspect of life, I may not still be as musical as I am. Mr. Frank helped me in so many ways that are hard to explain. This one person opened up my eyes to the simple joys in life, and I could not ask for a better perspective than the one he gave me.

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