A Living Tribute to the Life and Times of Charles “Bucky” Steele PDF Print E-mail

by Jeanne Steele/Mrs. Bucky Steele

Jeanne and Bucky Steele Today

Let me make you aware of some of the many contributions Bucky has made to Tucson's lifestyle, organizations, citizens (all ages), and to Tucson's history itself.

Throughout the following, you may notice the thread running through each account showing that Bucky has always given his “all“ in often heroic proportions … and anything he has cared about is always better for his having been a part of it.

His Early Western History

He was born on a Scottsbluff, Nebraska ranch on March 31, 1922 (age 85 in 2007). The Ranch used only horse-drawn farm equipment to grow whatever crops were raised. There were horses to ride and use for work, other farm animals to care for and help feed the family, many leather harnesses and tools (now only found in Museums), wood stoves for cooking and heating, an outhouse down the path from the Ranch house, hay and feed for the livestock, milking cows in the early morning before school and at night before going to bed, shoveling manure, and unlimited other chores to do. When Bucky was 14 years old, electricity was turned on at the Ranch.

Another Western touch … Bucky was named after one of the horses in his Great Uncle Charley's classiest and fanciest two-horse team. Bucky's oldest brother (Howard) was named “Bud“ and Bucky (Charles) was named “Buck“after those special horses… and in all their lives, most people never knew their given names. It was always just “Bud“ and “Buck!“

Bucky Arrived in Tucson Amid Some Confusion

He arrived in Tucson in the Fall of 1958 to be Band Director of either Tucson High School or Rincon High School (which had just been completed) … depending on where Paul Grimes decided to accept the Band Director's job. Bucky marveled that the Library and everything else at Tucson High was set up exactly as Bucky would have done it. Paul and Bucky were soul-brothers! The Grimes family, Paul and Stan's father and his sons, have been a major factor in The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee over many years. What a great family tradition!

Bucky's Passion: The Rodeo Parade Museum

He found himself surrounded by the harnesses, rolling stock and tools from his life growing up! Stan Grimes as Chairman, Bucky the Co-Chairman, and the two Bobs (Bob Stewart and Bob Taylor) are always working hard to promote the Museum in the community, find Sponsors and to achieve better presentations in the future. The Museum Docents who give Tours, Bernice Anderson, Caryl Duryee, Lee Copley, Shirley Pinkerton, and Ed and Theresa Hankes are especially near and dear to Bucky's heart. Bless all of these wonderful Museum people …they do a great job!

Bucky does whatever he can to contribute at the Museum … and I am sure he wishes he had more to give to the Museum and the Committee. He gladly gave his all when he was able. Now the spirit is willing, but sometimes the body won't cooperate!

Bucky is a “unique person“ with great strength of character. You will always hear the truth from him … you may not like his answer, but it will be honest and truthful, he will never lie to you or anyone else.

In a Quick Overview of his Life …

Bucky has proven to be strong, loyal, committed for life in whatever he chose to do, an Elder in the Presbyterian Church for many years with a strong belief in God, very patriotic and served for six years in the U.S. Navy Band, a Band Director and Music teacher who impacted thousands of young people's lives whether they were his students or their friends (becoming a“father-figure” and friend to many), a member and twice-Director of Bands at Sabbar Shrine Temple, Conductor of the Tucson Pops Orchestra, Docent at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and much more …

His Early Years

  • When Bucky was 12 (7th grade), he played drums regularly with an adult country band at a barn (dive?) out in the country where chicken wire was stretched in front of the Bandstand so the flying beer bottles wouldn't injure the Band.
  • A Drummer in his School Bands.
  • The Drum Major with his High School Band. He had so much style that the elderly ladies were still excited about it 67 years later when we were in Scottsbluff in 2005.
  • Won two National Baton Twirling Championships in 1939 and 1940. Then Bucky, with Norman Smith, began teaching Baton Twirling to young ladies … before that time, only young men were accepted as Baton Twirlers.

The U.S. Navy - 6 Years of Service

In early September 1941 at the age of 19, Bucky left his life long home in Western Nebraska by train for Washington, DC to join the U.S. Navy … and audition for the Navy Band. He was sent to Norfolk for basic training and came back to Washington, DC, where he was stationed at the Naval Base at Anacosta. The Pentagon was just being built and the Navy Band Bucky was assigned to played for the “Dedication“ for the U.S. Naval Hospital at Bethesda, followed by his being their first patient treating his Flu. He served in Washington, DC (and Arlington Cemetery playing for Funerals), New Orleans, San Francisco, etc. and was stationed in Lima, Peru and based for a time in Panama for three years overseas.

He was in Washington, DC at the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared War … and he and other sailors physically handed off, sailor-to-sailor President Roosevelt onto a small yacht to take him out to meet with Winston Churchill to sign the Atlantic Pact. Bucky was honorably discharged when the War ended after his six years of service.

Family Times With Financial Stresses

Bucky now had a wife, Virginia, with a severe heart condition and three sons to support. He learned the lesson well to never turn down a paying job no matter what it took out of him. He was always “on the job“ … and never let anyone down.

Education/Teaching Experience (He says he is still tired!)

  • 1947 Scottsbluff Junior College Taught all Music at Minatare High School (Nebraska)
  • 1947 Summer - Colorado State Teachers College
  • 1948 University of Wyoming: On Faculty: Taught Percussion & full Student class load Worked jobs and practiced musical instruments during/night
  • 1950 received a Bachelors Degree Taught all Music at Bosler, WY (incl. Vocal & Instrumental)
  • 1950 University of Oregon: On Faculty: Taught Percussion & full Student class load Worked jobs and practiced musical instruments during/night
  • 1951 received a Masters Degree Taught all Music at Triangle Lake, Oregon.

Over next 25 years:

  • Did Post Graduate work at the University of Oregon, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.
  • 1951 Was Band Director at Cottage Grove Oregon Unified School District. Conducted the Roseburg Symphony, Conductor of the Eugene City Band, Conducted or played for musical shows at the University of Oregon.
  • 1958/1959 Became Band Director at Tucson High School for the next 23 years and taught Middle School the last two years before Retirement because of his health.

30 years: Teaching Percussion at Pima College
40 years: Taught Summer Music Camps at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Band Director, Tucson High School (Fall 1958 - Ret. 7/1/83)

When he was the Band Director of Tucson High School for 23 years, he had students flocking to his Band Room whenever they had an open hour, or they were friends of Band members, or just to talk with him. He was always available for them, as their“father-figure“, friend and someone to listen. There were rules that had to be followed to be in his Band … so they followed the rules or moved on. But to the thousands who stayed with Bucky and his program, their lives were changed for the better.We still receive phone calls from former students who call to tell him how important he was in their lives. Often, when we are around Tucson, former students will flock around Bucky …so happy to see him. (The last couple of years of teaching, his health was not up to coping with High School students, with marijuana use and their general lack of respect for the School System. His Band kids were not the problem, but many time she stepped in between tall, strong boys and girls in fist fights. He never thought of his own safety, but did what he thought was right.)

As A Musician, Bucky Played Percussion In…

the Tucson Symphony for 19 years (Principal Percussion), the Opera Orchestra, SALOC, and the Flagstaff Festival Orchestra.

Tucson Parks & Recreation Department: (TPSRD)

Gene Reid and Jim Ronstadt were Directors … and Bucky was their friend. He advised them on selecting music programs forTP & RD, ordered music and did whatever was needed.

Tucson Parks Foundation

Bucky served a number of years on the original FOUNDATION BOARD which was formed for the purpose of developing fundraisers to raise money for TPSRD. One large yearly event the Foundation Sponsored was the SUCCESSFUL “ LPGA GOLF TOURNAMENT“ held at Randolph Park Golf Course. The Board handled all of the important jobs to make it a success.

Tucson Pops Orchestra: A 50-piece Professional Orchestra

From 1955 to 1973, Georges DeMeester was the Conductor and Music Director of the TPO and the Tucson Musicians Union paid for all expenses incurred. The TPO gave concerts around the Tucson area on the grounds of various motels … and wherever else they could find to play. Bucky took on the responsibility of the Tucson Pops Orchestra in 1973 when Conductor Georges DeMeester asked him to take it over, or let it die, since Georges could no longer continue to do the job. Bucky had been a member of the POPS ORCHESTRA since 1958 and the Orchestra was like “a family” to all the musicians. Of course, Bucky said “Yes” to his friend … and went to work.

Jeanne and Bucky Steele in 1973

Bucky became Music Director and Conductor in 1973 and continued through to 6/15/97 when he retired and turned over the baton to Laszlo Veres, the present conductor. In the beginning, there were money problems because the orchestra was professional, meaning musicians got paid for all rehearsals and concerts. There were no Board of Directors or Sponsors.

Bucky began searching for sponsors, met with Jim Click, and he agreed to help us with a small amount. Dick Paye, the manager of KAIR/KJOY, was the only TPO Board Member … and Dick began to look for money to continue the concerts. Dick brought in Dave Sitton, who developed a Board of Directors. The TUCSON POPS ORCHESTRA Series “Music Under the Stars“ grew to its present schedule of 6 Spring and 4 Fall Concerts a year. The TPO Concerts have become a wonderful “Tucson Tradition“, perfect for families with small children and little money, pets, older people with walkers and wheelchairs, and everyone else … and Concerts have always been free and open to the public.

Contribution Of Gene Reid and the TP&RD

Gene Reid, Director of Tucson Parks & Recreation Department, loved to “trade“ for what he wanted. Gene Reid wanted a band shell in Randolph Park (later Reid Park) that would be the“HOME OF THE TPO“. Gene raised Palm Trees and traded them to Davis Monthan Air Force Base for much dark green metal and other items to create a band shell. It was never in the TP&RD budget, but suddenly there was a band shell much to the surprise of the Tucson City Council. TP&RD supported the TPO in every way they could through the early years.

Jim Ronstadt Continued Major Support for the TPO:

Under Jim Ronstadt's leadership and support, the old green band shell was demolished and replaced about ten years ago with the excellent Georges De Meester Outdoor Performance Center used by all groups in Tucson (musical or otherwise). The TPO continues to get money from the TP&RD budget, technical support, etc. which makes it possible for TPO Concerts to continue.

The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee

Bucky is a man of the “Old West” through and through. He is a living, breathing example of the heart and soul of The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee members. He has laughingly said that once you become a member, it is for life … and the only way to leave “is in a box”. Bucky. is in the Committee for life. Bucky was honored to be elected Chairman of The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee for years 1982 and 1983…and they were very meaningful years for him.

Soon after Bucky and I married on August 28, 1969, Bucky was enthusiastically invited to join The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee by Paul Grimes, his beloved buddy and partner in practical jokes they often played. They were a great team and did a lot of planning ahead for maximum effect.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

About 25 years ago, Bucky successfully completed the rigorous “Docent Training Class“ … and has been working as a “Docent“ ever since. He was recently asked to work in the Gallery on Wednesday mornings from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. He greets people, answers questions, and watches over the various art exhibits in the Gallery throughout the year.

“Elder” in the Presbyterian Church

Bucky has been an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (in many Churches, depending on where he was living at the time) for many years … and was always willing to do whatever was needed and wanted, including many years of working with Church you that Camps and in activities. He continues to be faithful to his God, his Church and me, his wife.

Sabbar Shrine Band/Music Program (Mason and Shriner)

He did everything he could for Sabbar Shrine Temple in their music program …playing in their Band under Paul Grimes followed by Bob Godfrey. When the Band musicians were getting older and fewer in number, Bucky came up with a plan so the Sabbar Band would continue to have a band for its needs. Bucky directed the Band until a replacement was found last year.

“Bucky” is A Tucson “Legend”

Wherever we traveled in past years, we ran into people who had been Bucky's students … or they had heard of him. They would say, “You're from Tucson? Do you know Bucky Steele?“ He is a “legend“ with many young people, groups he has worked with, and he is known throughout the country.

Personal Section …

Bucky has three fine sons

(who have given us Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren)

  • 1st Dr. Steve Steele, Director of Music at Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal, IL
  • 2nd Chuck Steele, Computer Programmer and Publisher, Dos Cabezas, Arizona
  • 3rd Bruce Steele, Director, Veterans Upward Bound, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota

From Bucky‘s Wife, Jeanne Steele

After 37 years of marriage to Bucky, I know him to be a person of honor and integrity. I respect him for the strong, honest person he is … and all that he has willingly contributed to his Tucson community. Bucky gives all of his energy to “the work at hand,“ and works tirelessly to give back to his community. He has done that consistently in many ways over the years. He is a Tucson “legend“ and a treasure to all who know him.

Addendum To "a Living Tribute To Charles "Bucky" Steele

By Bucky Steele

I felt my "music history" should include more information.

In the 4th grade (age 9) in school, I started to take piano lessons and in the 6th grade (age 11) added the Snare Drum. A large influence in my life was my Band Director, LEO MOODY, who played all the road Circuses until WWI. He then joined the great SOUSA BAND before becoming the Band Director in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He was one of the men used as a pattern for the Broadway Musical "THE MUSIC MAN". LEO MOODY also started the "CITY BAND" in Scottsbluff, and he gave me and every other musician in the Band the fundamentals ... "Be on time, bring your music and instrument, and be prepared to play your part." From Leo, I learned much about how to have a successful life as a Musician. I graduated with degrees from the Navy School of Music, the University of Wyoming, the University of Oregon, with advanced degree work at the University of Arizona.

  • String Teacher: HAROLD BRAGER-NELSON (Concert Master,Oslo, Norway Symphony)
  • Woodwind Teachers: ROBERT VAGNER and RUDOLPH SCHMIDT (Solo Clarinet, San Francisco Symphony)
  • Percussion Teachers: ROBERT BUGGERT, HASKEL HARR, LOUIS GOUCHER and WALTER LARUE (Section Leader, San Francisco Symphony)

Prior to coming to Arizona, I taught Percussion at the University of Wyoming while attaining my B.A. The position at Wyoming followed 6 years in the Navy as a graduate of the Navy School of Music. From Wyoming, I taught Percussion at the University of Oregon; directed Bands as Head of the Fine Arts Department in Cottage Grove, Oregon; directed the Symphony in Roseburg, Oregon; and directed the City Band in Eugene, Oregon. This went on simultaneously over 10 years during which I received my Masters Degree from the University of Oregon. I served as President of the Oregon Band and Orchestra Directors Association.

A memorable time occurred in the summer of 1957. While at a Conducting Workshop in Asilomar, California, I met Dr. Max Ervin who offered me a job in the Tucson School System at either Tucson High or Rincon High, depending on where Paul Grimes (Band Director at THS) decided to go. Paul Grimes moved to Rincon High and I became the Band Director of Tucson High. This was to be my "home" for the next 25 years. Although I taught Band for the Tucson Unified School District for 25 years …for the first 22 years, I was Director of Bands at Tucson High School. When the "Marching Band" started to affect ray health, I taught Band at the Elementary and Junior High level for the last 3 years. I was acting-Chairman for the Music Department and taught Theory and Humanities in the "High School for the Gifted". During these years, I was Head of the Percussion Section of the Flagstaff Summer Music Festival Orchestra for 15 years. For a total of 40 years, I taught at the Flagstaff Summer Music Camps, both as a Conductor and Percussion Instructor. I served as President of the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors Association. I became the Music Director and Conductor of the Tucson Pops Orchestra …Music Under The Stars in 1973 and my "Retirement Concert" was on June 15, 1997. This Orchestra is a Professional Orchestra where all Musicians have been paid for every Rehearsal and Concert they played from 1955 to this year. The Orchestra continues to play 6 Concerts in the Spring beginning on "Mothers Day" …and 4 Fall Concerts starting around "Labor Day". I continue to be a Member of the Tucson Pops Orchestra Board of Directors.

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