Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 20, 2017

Bandstand dedicated to Ron Prill

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo The Ron Brill Bandstand in Central Park will soon bear a plaque dedicated to the man it was named after. The plaque was unveiled during a ceremony Tuesday at the final municipal band concert of the summer.

A plaque dedicating the Central Park bandstand to Ron Prill was unveiled at a ceremony Tuesday night during the final municipal band concert of the year.

The Fairfield City Council renamed the bandstand after Prill in 2013, and now this plaque that will be mounted on the bandstand completes the renaming process.

Fairfield Municipal Band director Jim Edgeton told the crowd of Prill’s accomplishments. Prill was the Fairfield High School band director and director of the 34th Army Band for many years.

After Edgeton was finished, municipal band member and long-time friend of Prill’s, Gerry Runyon, pulled back the sheet that was covering the plaque on an easel. Edgeton said Kent Whitney made the plaque and that he would mount it in the near future.

A few people who played for Prill in the 34th Army Band spoke at the dedication. Chief Warrant Officer James Goodwin of Runnells played under him for nine years, and went on to conduct the 34th Army Band himself. In 1984, Goodwin approached Prill out of the blue at a concert in Boone, asking if he could join the band.

“We don’t need any more saxophone players,” Prill said to him at the time.

Goodwin reapplied to join the band the next year and was accepted. He went on to become a section leader for saxophones.

“Ron was a very busy man because he was directing the National Guard band and high school band at the same time,” Goodwin said in an interview. “He was good at choosing music for the audience, and he was good at keeping the troops in line. He was also very approachable if you had a problem.”

Goodwin told the crowd to remember Prill not just as a good band director, but as a skilled musician, too.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Crile spoke about his memories of Prill, too. He asked the audience to contemplate how many times Prill must have gone on that stage. Prill either directed or performed on the Central Park bandstand for more than 50 years.

Municipal band member Claudia Sloat read a letter from Prill’s daughters, Nancy Prill Leathers and Linda Prill Mench, who could not attend the ceremony. The letter spoke to Prill’s unwavering service to church, community and country, and how the family was pleased Prill was being honored in this way.

Sloat was an appropriate choice to read the letter. Though only 21 years old, she had come to know Prill well because they both played trombone in the municipal band.

Late in life, Prill’s hearing faded. Edgeton tasked Sloat with being Prill’s “ears,” repeating to him what Edgeton had announced to the rest of the band.

Sloat joined the municipal band at age 13. She’ll never forget what Prill told her on her first day.

“‘I’m going to make you the best trombone player you’re ever going to be,’” Sloat recalled him telling her. “He taught me a lot about confidence. I had to repeat myself often, and that taught me the value of patience when working with the older community.”

Sloat said her experience with Prill has made her consider a career in geriatrics.

She said Prill spoke fondly of his wife, Betty, who died in 2001.

“Every Valentine’s Day, he would sing ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ to her,” she said.

Though she didn’t know it at the time, it was Prill who got her interested in the trombone. Sloat performed as one of the orphans in a production of “Oliver.” Prill played trombone in the pit orchestra. For one of the songs, he covered the bell of his horn with a plunger head, creating a distinct sound.

“Hearing that made me think of the trombone as a cool instrument,” Sloat said.

Her sister, Madeline Thomas, has been playing the flute for 17 years, and for 10 years in the municipal band. She keeps coming back because she loves to play for Edgeton, one of her “favorite people in the whole world.”

“He is incredibly talented and kind. There’s always something to learn from him,” she said.

Thomas said Edgeton inspired her to become a teacher. After earning her degree, she moved back to Fairfield to be in the same music department as him.

Steve Bekel was one of the original members of the municipal band and an alumnus of the 34th Army Band. He played under Prill in both high school and later the municipal band.

“He got me started on the trombone in fourth grade,” Bekel said. “Then when I was a senior, he talked me into joining the 34th Army Band. I shipped out to basic training four days after graduating high school.”

Bekel said Prill could be strict when necessary, but he also knew when to pat someone on the back after a job well done.

Jim Wotherspoon has been in the municipal band since 1995. His primary instrument is euphonium, but he played tuba for Tuesday’s concert.

“I played the euphonium through college, and occasionally switched to the tuba,” he said.

Wotherspoon also knows trombone, and played the instrument during the Fairfield All-Star Jazz Band’s performance earlier that night.

“My dad had a music store, and I was always tinkering with the instruments,” he said.

Wotherspoon remembers Prill as a “super friendly” man who was helpful to everyone.

“He was especially encouraging to young players,” Wotherspoon said. “I sat next to him in the pit orchestra at the Sondheim. Even after his skills diminished, he was still a better musician than many others.”

Wotherspoon said the municipal band has remained in good hands under Edgeton’s direction.

“Bands take on the personality of their directors,” he said. “Jim is easy-going and rehearses us well. You need to have good sight-reading skills in this band because we rehearse only once a week. This is a unique fraternity, and a great place to develop friendships. I know a lot of people in surrounding towns that I’ve met through performing in bands.”

Chuck Drobny was an unlikely face to see on the bandstand. Drobny played trombone in high school, but after his graduation, he put his horn away and didn’t touch one again for 42 years.

Edgeton encouraged Drobny to give the trombone another shot. Drobny bought a plastic trombone after Edgeton agreed to give him lessons.

“Chuck had great fundamentals; he just needed to get back in shape,” Edgeton said.

With a little practice, Drobny was back up to speed. He told Edgeton he plans to play in the band again next year.

 

 

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