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Photo by Alan Ashley. Jim Otto conducts during a performance in Nashville.

By Crystal Hayduk

Nearly 17 years of the Chelsea School District (CSD) Band Department’s leadership duo of Rick Catherman and Jim Otto is coming to an end with Otto’s retirement.

He has been teaching, molding, and influencing the district’s band students since January, 2001 when he filled the open position of middle school band director. He also assisted Catherman with the high school band, and co-taught fifth and sixth grade music students.

Beach Middle School (BMS) Principal Nick Angel said, “I have enjoyed working with Jim over my nine years here in the Chelsea schools. Jim has been an anchor to our music department and has helped shape the band program into what it is today. I respect him as a teacher, father, and someone who always had high expectations for kids. His contributions have been integral to our success and he will be missed.”

Otto grew up in Ann Arbor, the youngest of five children in a musical family in which everyone played an instrument. “I think my parents had visions of us being like the von Trapp family,” he said. “We were exposed to all kinds of music, and it stuck with me.”

He graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor’s Degree in music education and began teaching in 1980. He also earned a Master’s Degree in brass winds performance from the U of M.

Photo by Alan Ashley. Jim Otto plays a solo with the Chelsea High School Band.

Otto has fond memories of his own middle school band director, Dan Long, who is now a nationally known orchestra pedagogue. “I remember his kindness more than anything,” said Otto. “And he told great life stories.”

Otto did his student teaching under the guidance of John Whitwell in Ann Arbor. “John was incredibly kind and patient,” he said. “I always tried to emulate him.”

Otto married his wife, Sarah, whom he describes as being the rudder in his sailboat, in 1998. With a shared love for horses, the two of them searched for property to fulfill their dreams and found it south of Chelsea. It was a long drive to his job at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, so when the position in CSD became available, he applied. 

Catherman said that it has been a privilege to work with Otto for the last 17 years. “Jim has received numerous honors, including the 1995 MSBOA District 12 Teacher of the Year, and membership into the American School Band Directors Association – an organization that recognizes outstanding band directors across the U.S.,” he said. “The middle school band has continued a strong tradition of excellence in performance during Mr. Otto’s tenure, consistently earning first division ratings at the MSBOA District Band Festivals.”

Otto’s 37-year teaching career can best be described by a quote from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” “The best times were teaching music to kids as well as life lessons through the medium of music,” said Otto. Following a summation of decades of increasing expectation and responsibility for teachers to solve society’s ills with minimal funding, with more recent competition with charter schools, and the difficulties of pension and health care insecurities, he said. “The worst of times has been the last seven or eight years watching…lawmakers denigrate [the teaching] profession. May God help my son’s future education and his teachers.”

Moving forward, Otto will serve as conductor for the Capital City Brass Band and teach part-time at Albion College. He and his wife have one son, Logan, who will begin high school in the fall. The animal-loving family has three horses, two cats, and a dog.

Otto said he has the highest respect for the entire staff of CSD, including Becky Poole, the BMS custodian, who is “so conscientious.”

In praise of his principal, he said, “Teaching with Nick Angel has been incredible. He’s more knowledgeable and supportive than any other principal I’ve ever taught with.”

Catherman thanked Otto and acknowledged his retirement in the spring issue of the Chelsea Music Boosters “Notes”: “We wish Mr. Otto well as he begins a new chapter of his life, and we know that although he is retiring from teaching, his influence and impact will continue to be realized in Chelsea way beyond his last day in the BMS band room.” 

Photo by Alan Ashley. Jim Otto.

      

           

           

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6 Responses to “Jim Otto Retiring from Chelsea School District”

  1. Lorin Kummer says:

    We will miss this treasure! What a talented man and gifted teacher. He will be missed and remembered for the amazing work he did with so many young students of music!! Well done and good luck to you, Mr Otto. Your work here impacted positively, so many lives!!!!!

  2. Lorin Kummer says:

    Great Article!!!!

  3. Cynthia Taggart says:

    Congratulations, Jim! You will be missed. I certainly agree with you that teachers have had a rough row to hoe politically over the past few years. I sure hope that we can turn it around soon. Enjoy your retirement, and I will be sad not to see you at MMC!

  4. jeannie cook aten says:

    are you related to jeannette otto and lucile otto . my grandmother was jeannette mc mullen cook we are related to the ottos from out near grand ledge lucille lived with us when i was a child while she went to mich state. just wondered. 734 475 9452. jeannie carl cooks daughter .

  5. jeannie cook aten says:

    are you related to jeannette otto and lucile otto . my grandmother was jeannette mc mullen cook we are related to the ottos from out near grand ledge lucille lived with us when i was a child while she went to mich state. just wondered. 734 475 9452. i am daughter of carl cook.

  6. jeannie cook aten says:

    are you related to jeannette otto and lucile otto . my grandmother was jeannette mc mullen cook we are related to the ottos from out near grand ledge lucille lived with us when i was a child while she went to mich state. just wondered. 734 475 9452.