Milford School District Board of Education unanimously voted to name the Milford High School Auditorium in honor of long-time band director, the late Jerry Thompson. The vote was to name the auditorium in his honor, but the official name will be determined at a later date. The decision was made after many people spoke in favor of the change, including Tricia Rescigno who sang the last song she sang at Milford High School with Thompson in the pits, “Home” by Stephanie Mills.
“I’m here to honor Dr. Gerald Thompson and show just how much he meant to me. He was so special. He made a difference ,and he was just the coolest. He found a way to give us independence. He believed in us and supported our creative sides. Thanks to Mr. Thompson, I have a closer relationship with my parents. He gave us great sayings like “failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Let us not forget the glide step that saved me in Manhattan just a few days ago. And thanks to T, I even found my first love,” Paula Bragg, who submitted the petition to the board with 1,010 signatures to rename the auditorium. “When he passed I couldn’t find the right words, but I knew how deeply his loss is felt by so many and that we needed to do more. I had great conversation with lots of friends and the obvious choice seemed to dedicate the auditorium, a place where he spent so much time and all of us who have been theater did as well.”
Bragg shared several social media comments on a post about the proposed renaming of the auditorium, all in support of the measure. Some on social media questioned the need for public comment. Board member David Vezmar commented that the board took naming buildings and areas of the campus seriously and did not want to make a decision without official public comment on the record. Many who spoke shared memories of Thompson and how his teaching methods inspired them.
“On October 9, 1990, Mr. Thompson brought out a radio and he said, I believe it around 11am, he was going to turn on the radio, and we’re going to listen to John Lennon’s “Imagine” because it was his 50th birthday,” Dan Hartman said. “And they were going to play the song at the same time around the world and I don’t think I’d ever heard that song before. But it was just, to me, it was kind of a magical moment because I feel as though we were the only class in the school at that time doing what everybody else around the world was doing. At 11 o’clock AM on October 9, but there was not only that, I’m a cartoonist, somewhat actor, but he was the first one to encourage me to do any of that. So, this auditorium should be named after Mr. Thompson.”
John Ranney, who worked with Thompson as a choreographer on many of the school musicals, also spoke on behalf of his friend and colleague.
“When I came to Milford in 1978, I offered to help with their high school musical as the choreographer and went on to choreograph 25 or plus musicals with Dr. Thompson. So, I know firsthand how many hours were spent in this auditorium bringing out the best for the students,” Ranney said. “And many of you have gone on to have, not careers in theater, but experience in theater that they would not have had without this musical experience at Milford High School. He always wanted to bring out the best out in the students and it was all about the students. Not one time did he ever take a curtain call at the end of the show, because it was about the students’ performance, not ours. There was one time when he tricked me during the show. During “Bye-Bye, Birdie,” we were supposed to get somebody to sing the Teenager Song and he kept telling me that it was going to work out and turns out it was me he planned to sing it. And so that night I was thrust out on the stage to sing “Teenager.” And fortunately, I knew the choreography and the words. But he was a schemer like that. We think it’d be wonderful honor to have his name on this auditorium which he spent countless hours in and in this pit. He wanted the best of the students for Milford, Delaware in the community.”
Former Milford High School principal, Rob Rescigno also commented on Thompson’s love of theater as well as his mischievous side.
“Jerry had passion for everything he did. He had an uncanny ability to organize and above all, he always found a way to reach an individual student and bring out the best in them. Jerry never did anything half-hearted. He was passionate about theater. Each summer, he would draw his vision for the sets of the musical down to the very last detail. He would say “Rob It’s all about illusion. Theater is about illusion, creating a sense that something is real on that stage.” The great thing about passion, it’s contagious. And you saw that in everything he did, and every student that was on that stage and no one was going to be let down because they knew he would not let them down,” Rescigno said. “This passion would sometimes create challenges for the principal. One day, he built a ship’s deck right there. And on Wednesday, two days before the opening of the show, we found out that it didn’t have the right building code. Well, I didn’t know that you could find enough two by fours in Lowe’s that were straight enough to fix the problem, but he did. Jerry was always creating what he called Broadway on the Mispillion in his temple, the Milford High School Auditorium, always creating the greatest experience for the students and the community. If something came up, he always worked a way to a solution the audience never knew.”
Rescigno stated that Thompson had a gift to make people feel good about themselves, the ability to guide students whether they were honor students or had special learning needs. Rescigno explained that Thompson was able to make students feel as if they were part of something bigger than themselves, teaching them life lessons of commitment, hard work and that effort paid off. He taught that even if someone failed the first time, they will learn and make it better the next time.
“Tonight, I’d like to speak on behalf of my father. Because I think, at this time, he would want all of you to know how much he enjoyed his job, band members and boosters, members of the drama department and the rock ensemble and other music students,” Gretchen Pikus, Thompson’s daughter, said. “He always told me to get job that you enjoy, so I did that. So, I would just like to end with his favorite song that he brought from Westchester to Milford High School, and it goes “with all your strength, hey win, we can. So here we go again. Rah rah rah Milford Buccaneers.”
Connie Fox, who was a band booster while her daughter was in band, explained that she was part of Thompson’s “roadies.” They did the things that Thompson asked them to do, like moving instruments, moving students out of hallways on band trips, watching what the students were doing and keeping them out of trouble. She stated that they kept things calm so Thompson didn’t have to do it. Another former student stated that he had dropped out of school and Thompson brought him back by recruiting him for jazz band. He stated that Thompson made a difference in his life because he validated him as a person, connecting with a student who loved music in order to help him grow.
“Some of you may not know that [Thompson] is also the reason we have the Milford Community Band. My grandfather, Joe Lear, volunteered for Mr. Thompson when he was the band director. He would complain that there was no way or anywhere that he could play band as an adult, Thompson answered without missing a beat, “And why don’t you start one.” Well, my grandfather took that challenge and created the Milford Community Band 30 years ago,” Jessica Rash, an English teacher with Milford School District, said. “This band has been a musical sanctuary to all ages including our Milford School District students. In honor of him, we should continue his legacy. We need to embody his values and to go forward in the future of the Milford School District. We need to make sure that we are teaching the whole child making decisions that are in the best interest of our students in their future and challenge ourselves to do more, be more and be the change we want to see in our community. For Mr. Thompson, our family and, in granddad’s memory, we support honoring Dr. Thompson’s legacy in this way.”
Eric Camper recalled trying out for jazz band and being nervous because he was performing in front of Thompson. After the tryout, he said that Thompson came up to him, pointed and winked, telling him he would see him soon. Camper explained that he saw Thompson again recently and he recalled Thompson again telling him to be good and he “I will see you soon.” Thompson’s granddaughter, Emma Pikus, spoke from her college in Florida.
“I decided to join this meeting after I heard and saw all the shares on Facebook, being tagged in them, being shared with them, with my mom, my aunt and a lot of other people from the city of Milford and State of Delaware,” Emma said. “I, being young, didn’t realize how many lives my grandfather touched. But recently, a lot of people have shared their stories and it’s touched my heart because my grandfather’s probably the most talented, knowledgeable person I’ve ever met in my entire life, and it would be such an honor to have this auditorium named after him.”
Even some of the board members had something to say about how Thompson touched their lives.
“There’s no way I’m going to say anything more than anyone else tonight. So just my quick story, my go to T story,” Vezmar said. “In contemporary music class, we’re high school kids. We don’t listen to a wide variety of music. We’re listening to, you know, whatever’s on the radio. And so he played the song for us in a normal classroom, he played this song for us. It’s a song called by Iron Butterfly called “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” And so, he played the song, and we’re like, yeah, this is pretty bad. Thompson. Nobody really wants to listen to this kind of music. And he’s like, “Oh, cool. Okay, I’m going to play it again.” But while he played it, he flashed the lights in the moment. A lot of us at that point, got it. You know, we’re like music isn’t just about what you’re hearing out of the out of the radio. It’s like really experiencing the music. And that’s really my T moment where I think about learning how it’s about really feeling the music.”
Others remembered being part of school plays under Thompson, including “Bye-Bye, Birdie” and the fact that Ranney was thrust onto the stage for a song.
“I just wanted to start off by saying thank you for everybody for all of the comments and stories that you share. As a board member, when we have this many people here usually means that things are going to start getting thrown. So thank you. That was a nice change of pace,” Dr. Adam Brownstein said. “I did not know Mr. T. But for those of you who do know me, I’m married to a theater major, and I never quite understood I think until tonight the somewhat irrational zeal, my wife has for live theater But, listening to the stories that everyone told here tonight, I actually think I get it for the first time.”
Vice-President Rony Baltazar-Lopez asked what the official proposed name was, and Miller explained that, after approval, those bringing the request would like to form a committee and come back with naming options. This would simply be approval that the board was willing to rename the auditorium for Dr. Thompson with an official name to be approved later.
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