Person of the Week

John Tetzlaff


That’s been my whole career – to inspire people.  If they say, “I can’t do it”, I say, “Yes you can!” I think I was born with a happy gene.  I like to build them up and not tear them down.  Don’t tear them down.  Figure out a way to bring them up.  

1.  What led you to the mission of being a teacher?

I studied engineering and all my life I wanted to be an engineer because I loved to fix things.  I would fix things – take them apart and put them back together.  But I didn’t have a math background.  My dad tried to impress upon me how important it was to have a math background.

I got to college and I failed math.  I couldn’t continue with an imaginary degree, so I came home and told dad, “Dad, I’m Musical instruments Mainely Music 3going to be a band director.”  He said, “You poor soul,” — because he had been a band director!  I said again, “Dad, I’m going to be a band director.”  So I went on and finished four years of education in three years.  I took all the courses.  I took a chemistry minor because I love chemistry.   I had a music major.  I studied both instrumental music as well as voice.
I taught and was a band director for five years.  Then I had church choirs all over the countryside.  So I did a lot to teach and inspire kids.  That’s been my whole career – to inspire people.  I can get them to do things that they think they can’t do — I show them how to do it.  If they say, “I can’t do it”, I say, “Yes you can!”   All you have to have is a desire and a will and I’ll show you how to make a path so you can get down that path and get it done.

I’ve taught music, but I’ve also taught how to sell trumpets John Tetzlaffand flutes.  I’ve taught how to manage a music store.  I’ve taught educators how to be a better teacher in the field of music.  I’ve educated people how to sell.  I’ve sold and educated people about SkyMed – our medical evacuation program and why they need it.  It’s an education process – answering the who, what, when, where, and how.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

It gives me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride knowing full well that I have affected a person’s life.  Not “knowing” I have, but being told so many times in years following that, “Hey, Mr. Tetzlaff, hey, Mr. T, you were a very important part of my life.  I wouldn’t be here doing this today if it hadn’t been for you.”  I say, “Wow!  I didn’t realize that!”

I’ve been back to the class reunions in Wittenberg, Wisconsin.  It’s fun to come back.  My buttons have popped all over the place to think, “Why, I really did effect that.”  That’s where I taught school.  I also taught in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the circus city where Ringling Brothers started their program and were born.  There’s a whole museum to them including the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. What a place to visit!  I marched in the first circus parade and have done a lot of “dumb” things.  :- ) It’s been fun!

When I was in college I got a call from the Oconomowoc American Legion and they asked, “Would you come and march with our band?  We’re going to go to the Rose Bowl.  That was in 1958.  I was a senior in college and about to graduate.  I said, “Yah!  What do I have to do?”  They said, “Come and play your trumpet.  We’ll have you march with our band ‘cause we need more players.  We don’t have quite enough to fill out the ranks.  We’ll give you uniform.”  So I went over to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and played with their wonderful Rudy Tibble who was the band director.

He had a program one night.  We had seventy-six trombone players.  We were totally surrounding the stage and played Musical instruments Mainely MusicSeventy Six Trombones from the Music Man.  The trumpet players stood up in the chorus and played the same thing on their slide trumpets.  (For a clip of this musical click here)  It was fun!  We raised money to go to California to the Rose Bowl Parade.  They had three buses.  One was sponsored by the State Conservation Department.  One bus was sponsored by Wisconsin Cheese Association.  One was sponsored by Waukesha County.  They paid money to buy the buses for us to go.  But the cheese bus, which I rode on, had fifteen hundred pounds of cheese underneath.  Every truck stop we stopped at, we had to cut up that cheese into small little pieces and deliver that cheese and small little brochures about Wisconsin cheese to all the bus stops all the way out to California.  All the way out to California we had fun.  We marched seven miles in a parade and then came back.

3.  What was your best day as a teacher?

I suppose the best day was when I got a first in contest.  We were working hard all year long and I got a first in contest with a boys’ glee club.  I had all these boys who were football players and wrestlers in my boys glee club.  They messed around all year long until they came to contest.  They finally got their act together.  We walked in there and blew away the crowd.  We were singing in class A — which was the top class.  We sang Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party (also known as Seeing Nellie Home and The Quilting Party.)   It was a jazz number and syncopated.  I can still remember it.  The kids sang it andMusical instruments Mainely Music 2 did a beautiful job.  Then they sang the Navy Chorus of the Navy Hymn. This brought tears.  The boys were so good.  They sang in four voices.  It made me feel good and probably the highlight of teaching.

There were also all the kids I started from beginners.  Here I am fifty years later and I still get calls from one of my drummers.  He’ll still call or email me once a week and send me jokes.  His whole family remembers me.   That’s kind of fun – how you can effect the lives of people.  I’ve tried to keep the connections through the years so my students know that we still care about them.  So it’s fun.

4.  What was your worst day as a teacher?

The day I was so sick with ulcerative colitis.  I knew that I could not go back to teaching.  That was the worst day.  I took a job selling magazine subscriptions.  I did that for the mere fact that they had a medical plan – so I could get better.  I left teaching and it really tore me up that I would have to quit teaching.  I had the intention that I would get better and go back to teaching.  This other job came along and I got excited!  It was selling trumpets, and trombones, and flutes.  That was the beginning of my travel career.  But the worst day was when I found out that I couldn’t teach.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I didn’t give up.  I was sick.  I thought, “My God.  There is a light in the sky.  There is a light in heaven.  I’m going to get better.”  They took out the large intestine and rectum.  I wear a plastic bag and have ever since.  Most people probably would have pulled themselves into a shell and said, “Oh woe is me!  Woe is me!”  I said, “Oh no, no, no, the Lord gave me a chance to live again and to do things for other people and I don’t get a hoot about me.  I’m self contained just like an Airstream!”

My wife – this gal – has been wonderful around me.  She has Imageaccepted me for what I am.  A partner is so important in your life.  I think having this partner – a strong willed female – a very strong willed female – has helped!  She is Welsh!  She keeps reminding me that she is Welsh.  One day we got out of the trailer and it was cold.  I said, “Honey, go get your jacket.”  She said, “I don’t need a jacket.  I’m Welsh!”  Later as she was getting in the car she said, “Close the door, it’s cold.”  I said, “No, no, no!  You are Welsh!  You are strong!”

I think the other thing that helped is that I’ve had very supportive parents.  I have a loving family.  I think that really helped.  We are a very close-knit family.  My brother was alive at that time and my mom and dad were alive at that time when I was going through that whole process.  My wife, Bobbi, drove down from where we lived in Baraboo to Madison, Wisconsin to the hospital and brought a pair of slippers.  My feet were cold.  She drove down in a snowstorm.  That cops stopped her for speeding.   (John’s wife chimes in, “That was when I was young and dumber!”)  I was in the hospital and had this crappy surgery.  I was just cold and needed something.

I call my wife Bobbi.  Her name is Rose Mary Roberts.  But she John and Rosemary in Tunder Bay,Ont. - Version 2never wanted to be called Rosie.  So she called herself Rose Mary.  When I saw her I said, “Honey, if you don’t like Rose or Rosie, can I call you Bobbi – that’s kind of a short of Roberts – Robert, Bob, Bobbi (feminine)?”  So I in 1958 when I went to the Rose Bowl, I was down on Market Street in Hollywood and saw a guy making these little signs out of gold wire.  I bought one that said, “Bobbi”.  She has been Bobbi ever since.  (Bobbi chimes in, “It’s a lot quicker!”)

I think a good part of life is attitude.  Attitude is 98% of what you are.  I think I was born with a happy gene.  I have always felt happy.  I have never felt vindictive.   I just don’t like hurting people.  I like to build them up and not tear them down.  Don’t tear them down.  Figure out a way to bring them up.

You have to want to be better.  You have to want to do something.  If you want to do something, it is possible.  Anything is possible if you have an attitude that you can do it.  There is nothing in the world that you can’t accomplish if you really want to accomplish it.  If you want to be president, you can be president.  You just have to be willing to work and find out the way to get it done.  The desire to do it is to do it.  There is nothing that can stop you.  Nobody can stop you and push you back as long as you put it upon yourself and your own will and desire to accomplish that purpose.

Also, look for help!  Look for people who are willing to help you.  Don’t worry about getting stepped on.  Don’t depend on the government to provide you with all the things that you need.  We are not a taker society.  We need to be a giver society.  We need to be willing to give of ourselves and give to other people.  That’s part of life – being willing to give to other people.  Share your talents and share your desires and share what you have.  This makes people happy.  Make them smile.  Make them feel good about themselves.

Smile.  Because we are all good children some place in our lives.  There is nothing all bad about anyone.  The Lord “don’t” make crappy people.  He makes good people.  You are the product of your environment in many cases because you have been beat up and beat down by other people and situations.  But you have to push that aside and go forward – put it behind you.

There is something that I learned years ago.  Think of all the things you worry about.  85% of what you worry about happened yesterday.  That leaves 15%.  Of that 15%, 7 to 8% are in the future and you really can’t control that.  What does that leave?  It leaves about 6% of your life.  If you think about it, that’s all you can control.  So, take that and work with it and go with it and you’re going to succeed.  Forget about what you are worrying about because you can’t do anything about it anyway.  Just drop it!  Then don’t worry!

(A special thanks to Mainely Music in Ellsworth, Maine for supplying props for the pictures!)