UWAA names Bill Cole the first recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award

Almost 40 years after his death, former students remain as passionately devoted to his memory as they were to the man who spent 13 years directing the Husky Marching Band and teaching in the School of Music.

For his passion for teaching, and most of all, for the example he set, Bill Cole, ’54, has been named the recipient of the first UWAA Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award. This new award recognizes the UW teachers who inspired and influenced their students both in and outside the classroom.

Just look at the scores of students who followed in his footsteps and went on to teach our region’s youngsters the value of music. Bruce Caldwell, who taught band in the Edmonds School District for 31 years, says Cole “is the reason I became a band director after college. After every event I would ask myself, ‘Is that how Bill would do it?’”

Caldwell, ’64, knows at least 20 Huskies who became music educators and band directors in Washington’s public schools because of Bill Cole. Caldwell’s daughter is carrying the Cole legacy into yet another generation as the band director at Jackson High School in Everett.

When Cole joined the faculty in 1957, the Husky Band consisted of 72 students, not really enough to make a musical splash during football games. “The kids in the band had such a good time that they recruited other university students,” Caldwell recalls.

But by the time he left the UW, the band had doubled in size and became a 144-piece ensemble that wowed audiences at home and on the road. At halftime, fans delayed their trips to the concession stand because they eagerly anticipated what the band would play. There was always something new and unexpected when Cole held the baton.

Students who took band from Cole when he taught at Stadium High School in Tacoma or in the Lake Washington School District signed right up for band when they enrolled at the UW because they were raring to play again for Cole. Almost everyone who nominated Cole for the UW award said this: “I always wanted to play my best for him.” The band rehearsed and worked so hard for him that even legendary Husky football coach Jim Owens took note. Before the 1961 Rose Bowl, Owens said, “We’ve worked just about as hard as the band has this past week.”

Dale Gleason, ’65, also spent his working life in music education and as a band director. He met Cole in 1950 at age eight as a student in the Lake Washington School District. “His most endearing quality was that he always seemed to care about his students. … He even exhibited this care with a fourth-grade trombone player who was too small to reach sixth position (myself),” says Gleason. He reunited with his band director 10 years later when he enrolled at the UW.

“Mr. Cole’s influence in my musical life is still being felt today. His approach to phrasing, conducting and musicality have been my standard,” Gleason says. This year, he composed a march in Cole’s honor that was performed in Arizona. As Gleason conducted his composition, “I was again reminded of what he taught me 50-plus years ago. When you stop the band to comment or instruct, think about what you’ll say to accomplish your goal and what the goal is.”

A native of Norton, Kansas, Cole played trumpet with Les Brown and His Band of Renown after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1946. While he was touring with Brown, he met up with an old army buddy in Seattle and decided to settle in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to teaching in local school districts and at the UW, Cole was the principal trumpet player in the Seattle Symphony.

Heartbreak struck the Cole family in 1969 when daughter Wendy, age 11, was killed by a drunk driver. In the wake of the tragedy, in 1970 Cole and his family left the Seattle area for Bellingham, where he became band director at Western Washington University. Sadly, Cole was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1979 at age 59.