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One last wave

Larry Wankel waves to the crowd at the Perham High School Auditorium as he holds a sign read-ing, “We’ll miss you!” The sign was presented to Wankel by current band members at a fare-well concert on Friday, May 10. Joe Bowen/FOCUS

Larry Wankel has been a band teacher since 1977 and Perham High School’s band teacher since 1986.

The school’s spring band concert held Friday, May 10, marked his retirement from teaching after 27 years.

The concert was divided into smaller grade-level performances and high school ensembles before having one combined band play for the remainder of the evening.

“The songs that we did for the very, very end were significant because we haven’t really had a concert band feeling in Perham in recent years, so I wanted to find something we could do as a combined group – to have that concert sound with larger instrumentation and that fuller sound,” Wankel said in a telephone interview after the concert.

Wankel has seen plenty of changes in his two and a half decades in Perham.

“When I was first hired here I had one class a day,” he said with a laugh.

“The biggest thing, I guess, is there’s a difference in the amount of time that the kids have left in their schedules. Modern kids are really scheduled tight. There’s not a lot of time left in a modern kid’s day as opposed to even 20 years ago,” he went on to say.

On Friday, there was ample time for his students to showcase the skills he taught them.

As the concert drew to a close, Wankel and his students received standing ovations after nearly every song, including a rendition of “New York, New York” that was followed by a spontaneous cry of “’Atta boy, Wankel!” from the audience.

Later on, Wankel and the graduating seniors were presented with parting gifts, including a poster that read “We’ll miss you!” in block letters, before he and the band played “Spirit of the Wolf,” the final song of the concert and his career.

“The school’s been good to me and the kids have been good to me, especially the last three years, and the high school kids have worked especially hard to make a program come back. I could never have asked for more or have gotten more than they have given me, and I will never forget that,” he said.