'His passion for music was contagious': Wauconda school community remembers band teacher
Jack Holt, a popular band teacher at Wauconda High School, is being remembered as a kind spirit who grew the program and inspired students.
Holt, 40, died Dec. 3 about a year after being diagnosed with cancer. Services were held this past week and tributes poured in from parents and students for the beloved educator.
"It's been a rough couple of weeks," said Josie Miller, secretary of Wauconda Unit District 118 Band Boosters. "He impacted so many people."
Holt, who lived in Arlington Heights, joined Wauconda High School to teach instrumental music in 2011. He instructed several music classes and conducted more than seven types of bands, according to Principal Dan Klett.
Through his tenure, Holt helped grow the "Marching Bulldogs" band program to more than 200 students and expanded the winter pep band and jazz band performance opportunities.
"By expanding the band, he exposed the community to the band," Miller said. "He really, truly got it right."
For several years, Holt also conducted the pit orchestra for the musical theater productions, including the most recent event Monty Python's "Spamalot," which wrapped Nov. 19.
Despite health struggles, Holt continued teaching. It was important for him to be part of the fall marching season and he was committed to conducting the pit orchestra for the fall musical, said Chris Dortwegt, a friend and colleague.
"Students were drawn to him because of his passion for music and his care for them as individuals," Dortwegt said. "He created a classroom environment where students could be themselves and make great music together."
Dortwegt recalled Holt's annual over-the-top enthusiastic demonstration of how to play the first three notes of the "Star Spangled Banner" as an example of teaching simple things in an exciting way.
Holt will be remembered for his enduring impact, Klett wrote in a message to parents, students and school employees.
"Jack had a huge heart and touched everyone he met with his kind spirit," he said. "His passion for music was contagious and he was always willing to help students achieve their highest potential, including several former students who have pursued music beyond their high school years."
That sentiment was affirmed in comments to Klett's post, which was shared by the band boosters group.
One described Holt as a treasure who wanted students to be their best. Another said he had only gotten to know Holt recently but understood why he was so loved.
"He was an amazing human who gave one million percent," Miller said.
Instead of flowers or donations, mourners were urged in his obituary to get outside and take a hike, patronize their local school or professional arts and then follow that with a Portillo's dinner.