Well on my way to becoming a band parent - my daughter is in her second year of playing baritone horn - I am only just beginning to understand the close-knit school community of musicians and music directors.
More than just a group of people with similar interests or close physical proximity, the school music community is like an extended family with the same kind of relationships and support systems that are invaluable within a natural family, but virtually unknown to those outside it.
Perhaps that explains why few people outside that community understand the depth of the loss in William Brunkows recent death.
The Army brought Brunkow, a child of South Dakota and Minnesota, and his family to Augustas Fort Gordon in 1958. He played trumpet with the Signal Corps Band, and earned a reputation on the side as a crackerjack instrument repairman.
After leaving the Army, Brunkow decided to make Augusta his permanent home. He soon parleyed his musical talent and repair skills into a new business: Brunkows Band Instruments.
All the talent and skill in the world wouldnt make such a business a success if Brunkow couldnt work well with the people in the music community. Like any other successful retail operation, the musical-instrument business is primarily about making people happy - but these people are like family members, and word passes pretty quickly among them about who is good to work with, and who isnt.
Brunkow and his family-owned business soon became an integral part of that music family.
When I moved here from Pennsylvania in 1968, Bill was one of the first people I was introduced to, says Richard Brasco, the legendary band director at Evans High School.
He always had a smile to greet you, wanted to know how things were going, Brasco remembers. He and Roz (Brunkows wife, Rosalyn) would come to our band concerts and banquets. He showed this kind of support not only to me but to all the directors.
He loved music and he loved all of us, as we did him. A trip to Brunkows was an experience in having a family who not only cared about your school band, but cared about how you were doing personally, Brasco says.
Thanks to that family atmosphere and caring attitude, Brunkows thrived. It became the music store for generations of band members and their families. Brunkows was the first stop parents made when renting or buying and instrument for their budding musicians, and Bill Brunkow was the skilled repairman they came back to when Johnny or Susie broke the shiny new horn and it needed to be fixed.
Like many other mom and pop operations, Brunkows success attracted the attention of bigger business: music giant Portmans of Savannah bought out Brunkows earlier this year.
Bill Brunkow, now 67, planned to continue working long enough to help make the transition to new ownership in Portmans first year in the Augusta market, and then gracefully bow out into an active and well-deserved retirement.
A key feature of that retirement was to be his fishing boat, and it was in that boat that Brunkow was found two weeks ago. Hed taken the craft in for repairs and towed it to Keg Creek to check everything out to make sure it ran properly, and was felled by a heart attack.
Its a shame that Bill Brunkow never had the chance to enjoy the retirement that hed worked so hard to earn. But his family is blessed that thanks to him, a lot of people have made beautiful music with Bill Brunkows help - and a lot of band-family kids have made their parents proud.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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