Plaques line the walls of South Tahoe Middle School, silver and gold dots connecting a 38-year musical history at the district.
It’s an era that will end next month when longtime music teachers J.J. Clause and Linda Kurek retire from Lake Tahoe Unified School District, but they don’t plan to sever ties with the program they’ve nurtured since the early 1980s.
“Neither one of us is going anywhere. Not after a lifetime of building up a program. This is our life, our identity,” Kurek said.
The two music teachers — who together have more than 70 years of experience in LTUSD — built the award-winning musical legacy from a rural community program. Accolades include multiple gold medals from the Anaheim Music Festival at Disneyland Resort, a command performance at the Northern Nevada Band Festival and a berth at the 1986 Vancouver International Exposition.
It’s a long list of accomplishments for a music program that hails from a district with less than 4,000 students. LTUSD Superintendent James Tarwater worked in a region with twice the number of students, but he said performance ability and band participation fell short of what he’s seen locally.
“I’ve been here for eight years and I’ve never seen such professionalism and commitment. They motivate students, they get really great things out of kids,” Tarwater said. “They’ll really be missed, no doubt about it. We wish them the best and we’ll try to keep the standards as high as they are now.”
Clause arrived in South Lake Tahoe in 1975 fresh out of college. The Bay Area native said she felt she’d died and gone to heaven when she arrived in Tahoe. Kurek, who left a job in Richmond, Calif. in 1980 for what she thought would be a one-year gig in the South Shore, described the opportunity as her dream job.
Kurek and Clause alternated between the schools during those early years, and, with Midas-like ability, the bands and choirs they led consistently won gold. Clause grew the high school music program to 300 students when she first arrived in South Lake. After a short break from STHS — during which time music attendance dropped to about 50 students — she returned to the Vikings’ home base in 1982. Four years later, the program was back up to several hundred youth and the band was chosen to play at an international exposition in Vancouver.
“That was probably the highlight,” Clause said. “We raised $20,000, which was a whole lot of money for the time, out of this community.”
In 2003, the district laid off the high school music director. Clause was working at the elementary schools while Kurek led the middle school program. In order to prevent music education from disappearing at the elementary school level, the pair teamed up to teach part-time everywhere. Other than in fourth-grade classrooms, the two women were able to maintain the program throughout the district.
“We tried to pick it all up. We were spread very, very thin. We had like 120 kids at the high school who came to us at the same time,” Clause said. “I can’t believe we did what we did.”
It was a hectic three-year period during which Clause and Kurek dashed between the high school, middle school and the four elementary schools. But, despite the whirlwind, both teachers said it was a fun opportunity to work as a team for the first time. And since Kurek’s children were in the high school at the time, she said she felt like a mother to all her students.
With retirement approaching in the next few weeks, Clause and Kurek said they’re excited to have more free time but will miss the program. Clause plans to walk Spain’s Camino de Santiago this fall while Kurek said she’ll visit Baldwin Beach on the first day of school next year.
“The support of the administration, superintendents over the years and the community was just huge. The program is a priority with all those people. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here,” Kurek said.
In other news
STMS club sponsors car wash
South Tahoe Middle School Club Live will sponsor its 20th annual car wash at the Lake Tahoe Unified School District bus garage on Al Tahoe Boulevard Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Proceeds from the car wash will benefit the club’s spring activities. The group will also sell baked goods in addition to the car wash.
Club Live promotes healthy lifestyles and provides high-energy activities to Lake Tahoe youth.
For more information, call Larry Lambdin at 530-541-6404, ext. 229.
‘Oliver!’ to feature Tahoe actors
The Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company’s production of “Oliver!” will take the stage in the Carson City Community Center May 10 through May 19.
South Lake Tahoe resident Logan Chapman, 11, starts as Oliver. His sister, Drue Chapman plays a member of Fagin’s gang.
The Tony award-winning musical retells the story of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”
Performances are on Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit www.wnmtc.com. For more information, call 775-445-4249.
Educational foundation hosts Celebration of Education
The Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation invites community members to the Celebration of Education Wednesday, May 15 from 4:30-6 p.m. at Lakeland Village. The celebration will feature presentations from all Lake Tahoe Unified School District 2012-13 school year programs developed with grants from the foundation. The organization awarded 32 grants totaling $50,000.
LTCC student art gallery wraps up May 11
Artwork from Lake Tahoe Community College students and faculty will be on display in the Common through Saturday.
Jay Weldon’s watercolor paintings will remain on display until June 22 in the Foyer Gallery while selections from the Hanna Porter and Growdon family collections will be on display through June 21.
Kiwanis Club awards scholarships to Whittell students
The Kiwanis Club of Lake Tahoe recently awarded $13,000 in scholarships to Whittell High School graduates. The scholarships were made possible through the Bob Baunhauser Foundation.
The Outstanding Key Club Member Scholarship of $4,000 was given to Anders Chaplin, while the $3,000 scholarship went to Kody Dangtongdee.
Amanda Harris, Garrett Bronken, Sarah Tencher and Emily Harris each received a $1,500 scholarship.
STHS wins Congressional Art Competition award
Julia Schmidseder of South Tahoe High School took second place at the Congressional Art Competition sponsored by members of Congress for her piece titled “Freedom.”
The competition was open to all high school students within California’s Fourth Congressional District and more than 40 piece of art were submitted for judging, according to a press release.
Elementary schools compete in spelling bee
Five South Shore elementary schools — St. Theresa School, Sierra House, Tahoe Valley, Bijou Community School and the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School — sent six third- and fourth-grade students to the district spelling bee April 26. Each school competed as a team to spell the most words correctly.
The magnet school won with a perfect score, while the other schools each scored more than nine out of 10 words correctly.
All grades will compete at the county spelling bee May 17 in Pollock Pines, Calif.