Ask anyone over the age of 50 to list off the teachers who made a significant difference in their lives far beyond high school graduation, and most - if not all - can recall at least a couple names.

It's a fair bet that the influence of those teachers had little to do with gentle grading, average expectations and a policy of little to no homework. Quite the opposite: The most influential teachers are those who demand nothing less than excellence and who immerse themselves in ushering their students toward great heights. Those are the lessons that pay off for a lifetime.

For 39 years - the last 34 years at Reynolds High School - music teacher Ben Brooks has been a defining example of excellence and leadership. By setting the bar high, his high school ensembles have won more than 300 group awards, not to mention dozens of solo awards.

Brooks, who retires at the end of the school year, leaves behind his own personal symphony: He'll be remembered by generations of students for the lessons he imparted on the values of hard work and dedication. In the end, Brooks' career as a music teacher wasn't only about making great music - it was about equipping students for life.

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