Fond Farewell Retiring band director gets heartwarming surprise from students

When longtime Hays CISD director Leroy Gerdes first saw more than 130 students and alumni set up for a surprise Dec. 21 concert in his backyard, he stumbled upon what was the best kept secret in Buda.

After all, keeping such a large production under wraps was a gargantuan effort. Music had to be quickly rehearsed and the right ambience had to be set up, all without Gerdes’ knowledge.

With the help of volunteers and parents, the performance, meant to honor Gerdes’ years of service to the district prior to his retirement this June, went off without a hitch.

Origins of the surprise concert began when Dahlstrom Middle School students learned of Gerdes’ impending retirement.

Gerdes, who has been a music educator for more than 40 years, has spent the majority of his career teaching thousands of Hays CISD students.

Jackie Hooks, a Hays CISD parent, heard the news from her son Jude Hooks, who thought it would be a good idea to organize a group of students to perform Christmas songs for Gerdes. Over the course of several days, the Christmas caroling plan developed into an outdoor concert in a Buda backyard where students performed “Sweet Caroline,” a Gerdes tradition.

“Jude said he wanted to surprise him, so I talked to all the other band moms,” Jackie Hooks said. “He’s taught our kids so much about responsibility and they leave middle school with such a great foundation which is why you see so many students here.”

Gerdes said he put off retiring for as long as he could, as he has loved being able to teach and get to know each and every one of his students.

“We have made Hays CISD our home for the last 35 years,” Gerdes said. “I truly enjoyed every last one of those years. It’s so hard to leave something you love, but it’s been time. I’ll be watching, though.”

“I started learning to play my instrument before I took band with Mr. Gerdes,” Jude Hooks said. “But with Mr. Gerdes teaching me, I learned to love playing and I think I’m better all around. Now, I want to keep playing through school.”

Gerdes is known for going beyond teaching. Current and former students remember spending summers practicing with Gerdes is the Texas sun, getting their summer band tan and learning “Sweet Caroline,” which was played for Gerdes at his party.

With less than four hours to practice for the party, generations of Gerdes’ students were able to flawlessly pull off the song they each spent their summers playing, despite playing as a group for the first time ever.

“He loves all of his students,” said Sam Zapalac, a band student’s mother. “When my daughter talks about Mr. Gerdes she talks about his favorite music and how he makes sure the students enjoy the music as much as he does.”

As for the future, Gerdes said he and his wife plan to visit the band at football games and performances.

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