Mention Ken Fisher around Deer Park High School graduates from the ’70s and ’80s and you can be absolutely certain they remember who he was.
He took the Marching Stags to the Rose Bowl Parade in 1970, to the Calgary Stampede several times and to many other prestigious band contests. But that’s really not why people remember him – they remember him because he was one heck of a teacher who touched hundreds of young people’s lives.
Fisher, 75, died in Mesa, Ariz., on Jan. 21 and his hometown is having a memorial for him Saturday at Deer Park Middle School.
“That’s the old high school,” said Dan Huffman, director of vocal music at Deer Park’s middle and high school, and a drum major under Fisher in the early ’70s. “For a large chunk of the people getting together this weekend, this will be like coming back to where they went to school.”
Fisher’s family started a Web site soon after his death where dozens of former students have posted their memories about a teacher who clearly went above and beyond teaching music.
Many write about how Fisher made them want to do well, made them practice and rehearse, exercise and commit – and how they did it all with great joy.
“He was a man of great wit and he loved to have fun; people remember this great laugh he had,” said Huffman, Deer Park High School class of ’72, about his former teacher. “You had, as his student, a combination of something that wasn’t quite fear, but you didn’t want to make a mistake, you wanted to do it right – he just had a way of making you want to do your best.”
When Deer Park High School’s remodel is completed in two years, part of the music and theater wing will be named The Kenneth M. Fisher Performing Art Center.
“It may be the whole wing, but we know for sure it will be the theater,” said Huffman.
Fisher retired in 1993, yet he continued to be active in the music world, wherever he lived. In Mesa, he was involved in six different music organizations and he died, suddenly and unexpectedly, while getting ready for a local band rehearsal, setting up chairs and handing out sheet music.
“Those visiting with him during his last minutes said that he was there with them joking and laughing one minute and then he was gone. He died with no pain, no distress and no fear. He died doing what he loved – visiting, laughing and joking around with friends against the backdrop of music,” the family writes on his memorial Web site.
Fisher is survived by his wife, Nancy. The couple would have celebrated their 50th anniversary in June. They had one son, Robert Fisher.
It was in the fall of ’62 that Fisher took the job in Deer Park.
“It’s hard to describe the impact he had; there was just something about him,” said Huffman. “The Web site gives a good sense of the man, I think. I’m a music teacher now, and I wish I could figure out his magic.”
Echoing many, one former student writes on the Web site: “I loved being in his band. First with clarinet, then with oboe. He had put his trust in me, someone who questioned her own value, to do this job. Their were times when we went on trips, that it would be a strain on my family financially, but I never saw a child left behind because of their family status. We were all valuable in his eyes.”
Huffman said Fisher was a legendary fundraiser who always knew exactly who to call for support.
Former students from near and far are expected to arrive for the memorial service on Saturday.
“I guess we expect it to be the biggest band and drill team reunion we’ve ever seen,” said Huffman. A recorded interview Huffman did with Fisher some years ago is the foundation for the memorial service.
“People can listen to that, and after the service is over, we’ve allotted time for people to just stay and connect,” Huffman said. “We hope they will bring in memorabilia, pictures, anything that reminds them of Ken Fisher.”
It was a little unusual to have the same person be in charge of the band and the drill team – but that’s how Fisher did it for years.
“He could out-twirl anyone he taught,” said Huffman. “I bet he still could. He was very special to all of us here, and he really enjoyed life.”