When Band Director Christine Smith left the Milford High School Band room on maternity leave recently, a well-known face stepped in to fill her shoes. Dr. Jerry Thompson, who taught band at the high school for 29 years, entered the classroom as a substitute.
Dr. Thompson graduated from Delaware State College in 1972, West Chester State College in Pennsylvania in 1988 and the University of Maryland in 1998.
“I began my career in Milford,” Dr. Thompson said. “Every student that walked through those band room doors were highlights in my career.” For many students, Dr. Thompson was a guiding light for them throughout high school.
Dr. Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, said his start in directing high school bands was unique. He said that he was talking to a college counselor 24 hours after leaving Vietnam and was asked what his major was. The counselor was not prepared for answers coming from a young man whose mind was still in the jungle.
“So he asked me what I did before I entered the Army,” Dr. Thompson said. “I told him I played drums in a rock band and the counselor responded ‘Good! You’re a music major.” He said he never looked back and enjoyed his career guiding young people not only in their musical talent but in life in general.
Nicole Rogers, who graduated from Milford in 2014, had Dr. Thompson as a substitute many times when Ms. Smith was out of the classroom. She said that Dr. Thompson was an excellent teacher and was able to handle discipline without students even realizing they had been disciplined.
“He is amazing,” Ms. Rogers said. “He taught us so much in just the three days he was in the classroom.” Other students who learned under Dr. Thompson echoed Ms. Rogers’ sentiments.
Commander Robert Hochstedler, who graduated in 1991 and now serves in the United States Navy, had Dr. Thompson as a band director all four years of his high school band career. Commander Hochstedler, a drummer, said that Dr. Thompson taught them that music was everywhere.
“One of the drum cadences we played, ‘Swamp Boogie,’ was actually based on the noises the building doors outside the band room made when they closed. He is the reason that music has always been a part of my life.” Commander Hochstedler said he will never forget that Dr. Thompson encouraged them to write and change music. He taught them that they should create and have fun instead of just playing the notes.
Dr. Thompson said that he decided to retire when politics entered education. He said that education became a political football to be kicked around by those seeking personal gains from education instead of what was best for the students and the school. He felt that teachers were no longer respected for the job they do and became scapegoats for politics. He retired from Milford in 2000 and taught at North Caroline High School from 2000 to 2005 and at Wesley College from 2006 to 2009.
“I humbly thank each and every student for the opportunity to share their four years of high school,” Dr. Thompson said. “The football games, parades, concerts, performances, musicals and their effort and pride to make the high school music as great as it could be.”