There were a lot of reunions Sept. 16 during Grandview Heights High School's annual Alumni Night football game.

There were a lot of reunions Sept. 16 during Grandview Heights High School's annual Alumni Night football game.

But perhaps the most special reunion took place the following afternoon in the high school auditorium.

Alumni who played in the high school band during the tenure of director Mary Jo Gaskalla gathered that day to catch up with each other and to reunite with the teacher they agree transformed the school's instrumental music program.

Gaskalla, 82, now lives in Lewis Center. She served as band director from 1965-74.

"It's just amazing," she said between visits with former students. "I can almost name every one of them and what instrument they played."

"It's so wonderful to see all of them again," Gaskalla said. "This is such a talented community. Anyone could look good handling the band when you had so many talented students and such a supportive community."

Not so, said Jim Anderson, one of the organizers of the reunion and a 1972 Grandview graduate.

"The band was exceptional after she took over as director," he said. "She was a special teacher. We heard her say so many times, 'results, not excuses.' That was a lesson that applied not only to music, but to life."

A banner featuring Gaskalla's favorite motto hung above the auditorium stage during the reunion, near a display of band memorabilia and photos. Selections from five albums the band recorded during her tenure played as her students shared laughter, tears and stories.

The banner will hang permanently in the band room to provide inspiration to current and future student musicians, Anderson said.

"Mary Jo raised the standards of our music program," said George Keckler, class of 1968. "She was the first director who took us to competitions and state contests. We earned a lot of top scores. She opened our eyes to the bigger world that was out there."

Make no mistake, Gaskalla could be a tough teacher, said Fred Agler, another 1968 graduate.

That passion for excellence "made us become better musicians," he said -- and, with the perspective of experience, made her students better people, he added.

One of the highlights of the Sept. 16 football game came when Gaskalla directed the band in playing the national anthem.

"When she got up on that ladder and raised her baton, she was young again," Keckler said. "It brought back so many memories."

Carol Agler, class of 1968, said Gaskalla's influence on her and other students was profound.

Agler, who retired last year as founder and director of the Ohio State School for the Blind marching band, said she probably never would have become a music teacher if it weren't for Gaskalla.

"She inspired me with her dedication as a teacher," Agler said. "She knew how to make her students better by knowing how to give them a role in the band that best suited their talents. It made everyone feel like they were an important part of the band."

Ed Latta, a 1967 graduate, said Gaskalla gave him purpose.

"She showed you what music could become in your life, that it was about a lot more than playing the notes," he said.

"I was part of the band for two years before she got here and then two years after she arrived," Latta said. "She raised the band program to a whole other level."

During a ceremony at the band reunion, Latta announced the creation of the Mary Jo Gaskalla Instrumental Music Scholarship Fund. Latta donated $10,000 to get the fund going, and the Grandview Band Parents Association will help to solicit an additional $10,000 needed to make it self-sustaining.

The fund will provide scholarships to Grandview band students who will pursue a college major related to music.

"It's her legacy," Latta said.

Gaskalla said she always tried to help her students realize the value of playing in band was more than musical.

"The teamwork, cooperation and dedication it takes are attributes you'll use all through your life," she said.

"I always would tell them 'results, not excuses' because I wanted them to strive for the best in everything they did, not just music."

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