C. Rick Eckler is officially retired.

C. Rick Eckler is officially retired.

"I highly recommend it," he said last week.

After a lengthy career as a music educator, most recently serving as director of instrumental music at Northland High School, the 55-year-old Lewis Center resident said he decided this year was going to be his last. Unused vacation time enabled him to start his retirement several weeks before the end of classes.

"First of all, 32 years is enough," Eckler said in explaining his decision.

When he started his teaching career at age 22, fresh out of Ohio University, Eckler said he was not much older than many of his students. Now, he's older than many of their parents.

Eckler, who was named High School Music Educator of the Year by the Columbus Symphony in 2010, will be honored for his years of service at the Northland Community Council Volunteer Awards Banquet.

The annual event highlighting people who make contributions to the neighborhood will take place Thursday, May 29, at the Villa Milano Banquet and Conference Center, 1630 Schrock Road. A social hour with cash bar begins at 5:30 p.m. The dinner is at 6:45 p.m. The master of ceremonies will be Cabot Rea, news co-anchor for WCMH-TV.

During the banquet, Eckler will be presented with the President's Award.

"That's because of his 16 years of dedication to the Northland area and helping out the community," NCC President Emmanuel V. Remy said. "I think most people would regard him as the best band director in the city."

"That's pretty exciting to me, and it's very humbling," Eckler said. "Often in our world as band directors and musicians, you're in your own world. It's amazing how much you don't see adults when you work with kids. Often, you wonder if anyone notices what's happening or appreciates what you do. It's an honor and I appreciate it.

"I really love the Northland community. I try not to say no when someone calls and asks for the band to come out. I've often thought the Northland community is a small town in the big city."

Retirement will give Eckler the opportunity to do something this summer that he hasn't done in a long time: not much.

"The only promise I was trying to make myself is I'm taking the summer off," he said. "People think teachers have the summer off. Well, I never had the summer off.

"I have a honey-do list that's way too long, and not just from my wife."

Eckler said he and his wife, Marcy Rodgers, have a big trip planned this summer that will include a river cruise in Europe.

In the fall, he added, it will be time to look around and "see what the next phase is going to be."

Eckler said he might go to work for the travel agency that handled arrangements when the Northland High School band went on trips.

"I can be a little picky about what I do or how long I do it," Eckler said. "I'm not working another 60 hours a week. I'll just wait and see what the future brings.

"I had a great run. I taught many fabulous students and had great parents."