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Walt Lovell: Elko High School Band Director of 36 Years

I (Anthony Crosby) always appreciate when I have the opportunity to do a public interview with an individual who is quite beloved here in the Elko community. I love having this pleasure because it’s great to have people come up and say hello to the person while our conversation is taking place. I’m not sarcastic when I say that either; it genuinely is excellent. It’s a real testament to that person’s reputation and character. For example, when today’s guest and I sat down to chat for this blog, there were at least four people who were excited to see and greet him. This was no surprise to me after realizing the impact that our guest may have had on hundreds of local young people over many decades.

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This week, we had the honor and privilege of sitting down with Mr. Walt Lovell. If you were involved with anything music at Elko High School over the past few decades, then this name is not an unfamiliar one. For thirty-six years (1978-2014), Walt acted as the Band Director for the school. To say he accomplished many things in his tenure would be an understatement! In only his second year at EHS, he was able to take his students to New York City to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Video Below)! His students have also performed at presidential inaugurations, played in the coveted Rose Parade, and have traveled all over the country to share their skills!

Thank you so much for joining us this week, Walt! Before we talk about what you loved so much about teaching in Elko, can you tell us the story of how you ended up in our little town in the first place?

“It all started in Cottonwood, Arizona in 1947, and then it goes to California, where I spent kindergarten through eighth grade. We moved back to Arizona when I was in high school, where we lived in a ghost town, a real ghost town! I was going to be a professional athlete- a baseball player. That went out the window my senior year of high school when I threw five innings in a rain and sleet storm, and that was the baseball arm thanks to a coach that will not be named! All through that, I was playing the saxophone and was in the school band.

“When it was time to go to college, I hadn’t received any of the local scholarships, so I wrote a letter to the head basketball coach and band director at Eastern Arizona College telling them I wanted to come down and play for them; they each gave me a half scholarship! So, I played college basketball for two years and was the drum major in the marching band and in every ensemble the school had. I had two of the most exciting years of my life there, which laid good groundwork for being a high school teacher. After that, I went up to Northern Arizona University for a couple of years where I hauled band instruments and drove trucks and things for my scholarships there. I played sousaphone in the marching band and saxophone with different jazz groups. I met a lot of interesting people in college; all you had to do was go up and introduce yourself!

“After college, I taught at four different schools in Arizona. I eventually went up to Bullhead City, Arizona, which is right on the Colorado River. I was there for five years. However, we had gone through three principals in those five years, and I was frustrated. It was time for me to move on to bigger and better things. A friend of mine called me from Reno about a position that was open at a high school up in Tahoe. That sounded good to me, so during the Summer of 1978, I drove from Whitewater, Wisconsin and stopped here in Elko to have breakfast at the McDonald’s. As I was stopped, I saw that Elko High School had an opening for a band director, so I went and used one of the three payphones in town to find out where I could get the job information. The other job in Tahoe has been already filled, so I applied for the position at Elko High, and they brought me in for a seven-hour interview! The band already had a good reputation, even before I came in, and everybody had expectations. So, when I was brought in, I pushed, and we did very well! One thing I always wanted to be about was creating exposure for Elko and the Band of Indians.”

That is quite the journey, Walt! What did you love most about working at our local high school throughout all those years?

“Every day was new, and every day was an adventure. I didn’t work much because every day I was doing something I loved to do. Every school I had taught at had great kids. The kids I’ve had in Elko have really kept me going; I’ve made some lifelong friends. I had great parents and great administrators.”

Now, what’s interesting about your story, Walt, is that you have worked and lived in several places before settling down here. What about Elko made you and your family decide to stick around for over forty years?

“Elko is special. I don’t think people understand how special it is. We’re not too close to anybody, but we’re not really that far from anybody; we’re in the perfect spot. When I tell people where I live, they assume it’s in the middle of nowhere, but I tell them it’s actually in the middle of everywhere! And even though the town is six times the size now than when I moved here, the people are still very special.”

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Now, you retired from your band director position in 2014, so I’m sure many of our readers would like to know what you’ve been up to since then!

“I administrate a couple of online classes a semester at a college. I also teach a three-hour humanities class on the history of rock and roll at the college (Great Basin College). I help with the community orchestra. If somebody from the high school calls up, I’ll go and help out from time to time, and I also try to write and arrange music for different performances. I also do orchestra for musicals at the college, and we have Chicago coming up!”

Finally, Walt, what are some key points of wisdom that you still cherish when you think back to your legacy at Elko High School?

“I would reiterate something I would tell the kids and parents. Yes, we were in the education business, but we were more in the memory business. We were about creating great memories that would bring back positive things to those students. For example, I was in Salt Lake City yesterday, and I ran into a former student. She told me about how she had so much fun just riding the bus on trips!

“The best thing you can get in your life is a standing ovation. Every kid who gets to a concert, no matter what their age or style of music is, deserves a standing ovation if they put in the work. If they put in the work and they love what they do, then give them a standing ovation, and always remember Elko.

“I would hope people understand that kids need music because music is the soundtrack to their lives!”

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See you around, Elko!

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