25 years later: Bob Souza remembered

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:57

    Central Valley - “Everybody loved him!” That’s how his former band leader, 14-time Grammy-winner Jimmy Sturr, remembered Bob Souza, the accomplished musician and music teacher who played behind him and arranged musical numbers for his now world-famous Polka orchestra for 11 years in the 1960’s and 70’s. “All the guys in the band just thought he was a great guy,” recalled the Polka King from his Florida, N.Y., headquarters. “Aside from being a terrific trumpet player, he also did a good number of musical arrangements for us, many of which we still use today. And Bob even appears on many of our old album covers.” Robert W. Souza came to the Monroe-Woodbury Middle School in 1966 as an instrumental music teacher. During 14 years at M-W, he served as stage band director in both the high school and middle school, music team leader in the middle school from 1974, advisor to the G.O., and district music coordinator starting in 1976. He also arranged and conducted music for district scholarship productions, including Pajama Game, Finian’s Rainbow, and for the student musical, The Sky’s The Limit. In addition to his teaching and community theater service, he also played horns and arranged music for Jimmy Sturr’s Orchestra and had worked with diverse musical artists from Della Reese to Dion and the Belmonts. “Bob was always gentle, and people respected that,” said retired music teacher Don Johnson, worked with his friend and colleague from 1972 until Souza’s death in 1980. Johnson noted that Souza was very encouraging as he started his M-W career as a brand new teacher. He was also extremely knowledgeable, competent with a fine rapport with students. “He had such a love for his subject, his students,” Johnson said. “He was a role model for a new teacher - a ‘teacher’s teacher.’” Sturr also recalled how Souza often brought his students to hear him play with his then only locally famous Polka band. “He’d always have his students with him, sitting right down front,” Sturr said. “He sure cared about those kids.” Sturr also had a soft spot for the “music kids.” He took up the clarinet and began performing locally at age 13, and then won a music scholarship to the Valley Forge Military Academy. The rest, as they say, is musical history. The Robert W. Souza Memorial Scholarships were instituted shortly after Souza’s death 25 years ago this August. Former Monroe-Woodbury Middle School Principal Dick Moomey, with the support of the M-W Teachers’ and Administrator’s associations, had decided to memorialize Souza in a special way by creating scholarships in music and the performing arts for high school seniors, as well as underclassmen from grades seven to eleven. The first fund raiser was held in December 1980 and featured an appearance by the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra. To produce the fund raising events and administer this scholarship program in perpetuity, the Souza Scholarship for the Performing Arts, Inc. was incorporated as a not-for-profit charitable organization. The Souza Scholarship Committee grants monetary awards to high school seniors in the form of college tuition payments, which will be awarded to one or more deserving students. Grants to students in grades seven to eleven will be used to encourage further development in music or the performing arts: e.g., summer music camp, specialized workshops, advanced lessons or training, etc. More than $150,000 in scholarships have been awarded since the program began. “In 35 years in the field of education, I was privileged to work with many outstanding teachers,” Moomey said. “But Bob was a star in that galaxy of luminaries. He exemplified character, class, talent, courage and true humanity.” Over the past 25 years, some of the productions which have been presented as fundraisers for the scholarship are You Can’t Take it With You, The Sound of Music, Annie, Peter Pan, Oklahoma!, The King and I, The Wizard of Oz, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and now, Seussical, the Musical. All of these productions have been supported by Monroe-Woodbury staff and students, who often appear in productions, work backstage or play in the pit orchestra. Often director and sometimes producer/director of many of these fundraising shows, Moomey has very strongly felt reminiscences of Bob Souza. “Bob Souza was indeed ‘a man for all seasons,’” Moomey said. “He was also my best friend. When Bob passed away, a void was left, which has been partially filled by the Souza Scholarship for the Performing Arts, established in his memory. I am sure, with each succeeding production of the Souza group, Bob looks on with modest pride.” The Souza Scholarship for the Performing Arts will present its 25th anniversary benefit production Seussical, The Musical during two upcoming weekends: Oct. 22, 28, 29, at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 23 and 30 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for advanced sales and $12 at the door. For more information about Seussical performances and/or to reserve tickets, call 845-928-6737 or 845-928-2613, or simply send a check to reserve tickets to The Souza Scholarship, P.O. Box 555, Central Valley, N.Y. 10917. This story was written by Bob Curtis.