Dana Henson knows he has some big shoes to fill, now that Oregon City High School band Director Bill Bartman has retired.

by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI - On the last day of school, the real Bill Bartman, left, with the flat Bill Bartman, given to him by his many fans.Bartman wasn’t really ready to retire, but he also said he is proud to be leaving the program “in good hands, so it will grow and flourish.”

Although Bartman’s official last day of school was June 11, his students, present and former, cooked up a surprise send-off party for him on June 3, the night of Bartman’s last band concert.

“It was a tearful, joyful, humbling honor,” he said, describing how his students had arranged for him and his wife to be transported to the concert in a 1957 Cadillac limousine.

After progressing through a reception line, Bartman was directed to sit in a special gold chair, and then listened as students from his past shared stories about him.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Bill Bartman, retiring band director at OCHS, waltzes through a receiving line before the last concert of his career. He is followed by Dana Henson, his successor.Then Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley gave Bartman a city proclamation, noting his positive work in the community.

Following the concert, Bartman was given a letter from Gov. John Kitzhaber, and treated to a reception and surprise party.

“There was a really cool display of things we’ve done in the past 10 years and lots of kids from the past. It was so awesome to reconnect with parents and kids who are young adults and parents now. It is always good to see what they have done,” Bartman said.

A jazz band played during the party, and when Bartman went over to commend them, he discovered that it was composed of his former students who are now working musicians.

And as one final honor — a plaque dedicating the band room to Bartman will be placed just outside the door, where he has worked with nearly 3,000 students over the years.

Retirement decision

Several years ago Bartman was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a disorder of peripheral neuropathy, which affected his ability to stand and walk.

Despite his doctor’s orders, Bartman chose to stick with his job, because it “has been a joy and pleasure” to be the band director at OCHS for the last 10 years, he said.

In April 2012, Bartman decided to work only half-time, and that was when Henson, 30, came on board.

They’ve known each other since Henson was a senior at Siuslaw High School.

“Dana ended up being the band director at the high school when he was still a senior, and he took them to state. My daughter was in his band, and we got to be really good friends,” Bartman said.

Henson went on to Oregon State University, Bartman’s alma mater, studying to become a band director.

“Dana was considered by his professors to be the best field show instructor,” Bartman said, so the school district brought Henson into the program in 2012, and hired him to replace Bartman.

“When I realized the students couldn’t have played any better with me, I decided to retire,” Bartman said.

Now he is looking forward to doing other things, including traveling and playing his trombone for the Willamette Falls Orchestra and the Tualatin Valley Community Band.

Career highlights

One of the brightest spots in his time at OCHS was the New York City band trip in November 2011 for the 92nd Annual NYC Veterans Day Parade, commemorating the 10th Anniversary Tribute to the World Trade Center, Bartman said.

“The kids and parents were so wonderful and the kids did so well. We were one of the first groups to preview the reflecting pools, and the whole 9/11 memorial was so touching to the kids — they were visibly moved.”

He also fondly remembers the first trip the band took to Washington, D.C., in 2006. The band, in full dress uniform, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in honor of the 300th anniversary of Ben Franklin’s birth.

“It was 99 degrees and 100 percent humidity. It was so hot they canceled school in Washington, D.C. We were so proud to be there, but during our performance it was so hot that the instruments were starting to pop,” Bartman said.

Smooth hand-off

Bartman is happy to be leaving the band program in good hands, and Henson said he is most looking forward to “continuing the legacy” that Bartman has established at OCHS, by “continuing to build on an already award-winning program.”

Henson will take the marching band to the 2014 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., and the band will return to Victoria, British Columbia, in 2015.

There are so many things that he likes about his new job, Henson said.

“But the best thing is the kids — the students. Who else can get up at 5:30 a.m. and play at 6:30 a.m.? They come with smiling faces — ready to play. They are really special out here,” he said.

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