Bob’s Story

And I’m sticking to it…


It’s Bob.Bob with citation

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Here is the long version so get out the popcorn.

It all started a long time ago. As far as I can remember,  anyhow.

I was born into a blue-collar,  working class family in the early 1950’s. My father, John, was a steelworker, my mother, Sue, a stay at home ex pottery worker. My sister, Betty, 12 years older than myself, was like my second mother.

I always felt I had what I needed even thought one didn’t think or worry about it when you were at a young age. With factory work, it was always feast of famine. Work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day or be laid off. I do remember standing in line for government cheese at the local volunteer fire hall. Got to see the fire truck.

Growing up in New Castle, Pennsylvania was, in looking back, a good experience. We had neighborhoods and it was baby boomer time, so there were plenty of kids around and we were all out and about with no adult supervision, even though every adult knew who you were and what you were up to. With most of the group I ran around with being Catholic,church was very central in our upbringing. We attended Saints Phillip & James Catholic School, which just recently got torn down. You know the nun stories you always hear about; they were true. I had some wonderful nun teachers. The ones you liked never seemed to stay around very long. But, I had some who make the stories you hear seem tame. I won’t go into detail here but it would be considered child abuse now.

PJ’s, as we calle it, is where I got my first formal music education.

Miss Marie was our church organist and choir director. She was good. I knew that then without really thinking about it, but really know it now. We had a real pipe organ at church and after Sunday mass during the recessional she would crank that thing up to ten and all the heavens would open up. It excited me, anyway. She also gave piano lesson, which I didn’t take, and directed a youth choir, which I did participate in.

Aside from the church music, there were only three of us at that time that played any instrument in my grade level. Michael Dutchko played piano. He took lessons from Miss Marie. Bobby Calvert played clarinet. And me. I also played clarinet.

I don’t know what happened to Michael but the two of us named Bobby are both still playing the clarinet professionally.

Catholic school ended for us in the eighth grade. Then, off to public school. Ben Franklin Jr High to be exact.

OK, here goes. I had to walk to school, two miles, in the snow, ice, heat and humidity. Honest!

I lived on Sheep Hill. Ben Franklin Jr. High was on the East Hill.  So down, up, down up. I guess that is why I am in such good shape. (cough, cough)! I had a lot of company on the walk so I wasn’t too scared walking into foreign territory and back. Ben Franklin Jr. High was huge, and hectic. Band was, of course, my saving grace. Mr. Giovannelli was our director. A great conductor, who of course, put the fear of God into us. It wasn’t hard with me. All of my music teachers  were of Italian descent until I got to college. Except Miss Marie. She was Polish. They all put the fear of God into me. Funny, they didn’t have that as a course in music school when I went. Fear of God 101. For that one year in Jr. High band, we did a lot. We recorded an LP record. I still have it. We had marching band (thrills) with uniforms. It was like the minor leagues for the next 3 high school years. I am still friends with a lot of  the folks who were in that band.

On to high school.

Now I got to take a school bus. Yes, they had them back then. I really hated that. But the high school was on the North Hill, way too far to walk, even though I did walk home a number of times after band practice. Mike Ferarro was out band director. An ex marine; weren’t they all? We were the New Castle Red Hurricanes. Don’t know where they came up with that name?  There never was a hurricane within 1000 mile of New Castle. Got my first saxophone, an alto,  for playing in stage band. A Selmer Signet. Our football team was alway vying for the State championships, so the marching band got the thrill of playing in Three Rivers Stadium. Home of the Pittsburg Steelers. Yes, my team. We had a great band, great band director and graduated many fine players who became successful professional musicians and educators. 


Many of us ended up at the Dana School of Music in Youngstown, Ohio. It is the second oldest music school in the U.S. with the Boston Conservatory being the oldest.

Robert E Flemming was our band director. A master at getting the best out of the groups that he conducted. One of those who you didn’t want to get the “look’  from. I loved playing in wind ensemble. I played the contra bass clarinet. It is the largest of the clarinet family and makes very good farting sounds. I eventually graduated up to regular Bb clarinet. 

Robert Fitzer Sr. was my first clarinet instructor at Dana. I like him a lot, but was saddened when I heard at showing up for a lesson that he had passed away. I was in need of a new mouthpiece and remember during a lesson that he gave me two Kasper clarinet mouthpieces. Not until later in life did I find out that the Kasper’s were sought after and now classic. Not sure if he was just getting rid of things before he died or what, but I still have and play on them. The interim dean of the school then became my teacher. Not good. Luckily, he only lasted a year. Then, Joseph Lapinsky became my clarinet instructor and mentor. He was also the first sax instructor the school had. Prior to that, the saxophone wasn’t considered to be a “proper” classical instrument. He was a fine player and good teacher. I was not a good student. Party! A number of years after I  graduated, he became the dean of the music school. He recently passed away. R.I.P Joe.

At last, graduated, I became a band director at Warren JFK High School in Warren, Ohio while also teaching private music lessons. That is where my wife to be, Elene Gusch (Robin Smerek), first found out that I could yell real loud. She was also a student at the Dana School of music, working on a performance degree in classical guitar. She is much younger than me, so many of my friends became her instructors.

To be continued…


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