They say of all the people you will never forget, at least one will be a teacher. Aside from our parents, teachers spend more time with us growing up than anyone else. They shape us, mold us and help us grow. In the process they become a fixture in our hearts and minds. Everyone has one. One teacher they can point to who influenced them. One teacher who always seemed to have the answer, be the leader or was someone you wanted to be. That teacher for me was Dr. Robert W. Hartwell.
I met Dr. Hartwell in 1979 when I was 15 years old. Back then I was an aspiring musician with an enormous amount of talent, skill and promise. Unfortunately, the mountains of Eastern Kentucky (where I grew up), wasn’t the best place to hone my skills. So I convinced my parents to send me to Stephen Collins Foster Music Camp at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) for 2 weeks in the summer of 1979.
The camp was held on campus and we stayed in the college dorm rooms, 2 to a room. I was only staying for 2 weeks, but Mom provided me enough supplies and gear to outfit a squad of Marines for a month. I found out later I was actually traveling light. There were other guys who had brought their entire stereo systems, speakers, turntables, 8-track players, amplifiers, disco lights, flags, banners, plants, guitars, you name it. Yep, we were a bunch of 15-17 year old guys from all over the United States, thrust together for several weeks during the summer on a college campus with NO PARENTS! Does it get any better than that?!?
I won’t go into all the stories of sneaking out, sneaking in, fire alarms, whipped cream, girls dorms, girls, cars etc. That isn’t the purpose of this post,,,,,and I need to make sure the statute of limitations has expired on a few things as well.
No, the purpose of this post is the man who was charged with leading this band of teenage energy, hormones and attitude. That would be Dr. Robert Hartwell.
I met him the first day there. He was very imposing, not only in stature, but in voice. His voice was what the military calls a ‘command voice’. It wasn’t a yell, not a shriek, not a holler, not necessarily loud. It’s just there. You could hear it over the din of 100 teenagers. It was deep. It was friendly. It demanded respect. When I met General Norman Schwarzkopf years later, I got the same feeling.
I played the trombone in the concert band under his direction. I would later learn other instruments from strings to tuba, but the trombone was my home. I was very talented and I thought I was very good, but on my first day at camp though, I learned different. I was a very small fish in a very large pond.
The camp was a blast, with us guys getting into anything we could and of course, chasing all the girls. Dr Hartwell would come by the dorm many nights to check on us, talk with us and keep us out of trouble. He’d visit the floors and rooms like a commanding general visiting the troops and we all loved it. I was having so much fun that after 2 weeks I convinced my folks to let me stay another 2. Then the next 2 summers I went back yet again for 4 weeks each.
At the end of my senior year in high school I had opportunities to go to several universities on music scholarships. In the end, however, I took the one offered to me by Dr. Hartwell and started EKU in August 1981. We had talked, I knew him, what he wanted, what he expected, it just seemed natural.
My freshman year was pretty hectic with regular college classes and music courses. I was majoring in music education, but really wanted to be a professional musician. By the end of the first semester I ran into some trouble with my primary faculty instructor (who was new to the staff). He was a balding, despot, musician wannabe with a napoleon complex. I didn’t respond well to people ordering me around, calling me names or yelling at me, (this was my pre-military years). So, after a few run-ins with him I just walked to Dr. Hartwell’s office, asked to see him and we discussed the problem. (I left out the part about the instructor sleeping with another student, that’s a story for later.)
Now Dr. Hartwell had known me since I was 15. He’d known me when I was good and when I was bad (who goes to camp and doesn’t get into a little trouble?). I suppose he knew me well enough to trust me and look in to the problem. After that day I NEVER had any trouble with that faculty member. And my freshman year continued.
After being in the marching band, brass ensembles, orchestra, concert band and jazz band my freshman year I realized 3 things.
1. I wasn’t good enough to be a professional musician.
2. Music teachers didn’t make money
3. I was more interested in communications and electronics as a job/future.
I discussed changing majors with my parents, then I went to see Dr. Hartwell. I explained to him I was going to give up my scholarship and change my major. I expected disappointment or anger from the man who had molded me for over 4 years to be a musician. I got none of that. Instead, he treated me like a Father would a son. He questioned my decision making process. He questioned my desires and goals. He questioned my chosen path. Not once though did he act disappointed. In fact, he was happy with the process I’d gone through and with the decision I’d made for my life. It wasn’t until years later I realized he hadn’t been molding me to be a musician after all, he’d been molding me to be a man.
I finished college, joined the Navy and spent almost 10 years traveling the world. In 1996 I became a civilian working in California and then moved to Georgia in 1997 where I still am today. By 2001 I hadn’t thought of Dr. Hartwell or the music camp in almost 20 years. Then one night I came across the website for Stephens Collins Fosters Music Camp. And nestled in the web pages was Dr. Hartwell’s email address.
Holy cow! There’s a name I hadn’t thought of for a while. I emailed him. I didn’t think he’d remember me so I included a detailed description of me, when I was at camp and when I was at EKU. Turns out I didn’t need to include the description, he did remember me. We exchanged a few emails that year. I told him what I’d been doing and he told me about his daughter growing up. This astounded me since she was a very small child when I knew her. Then after a few emails we fell out of touch again. I had started a family of my own, a new job, a new house and was very, very busy. Life went on I suppose.
Last night I was cruising the net like I do most nights and found the Stephen Collins Foster Music Camp web site yet again. Only this time instead of an email address for Dr. Hartwell, I found a web page discussing the tribute concert being held for him on June 27th at EKU. Dr. Hartwell died Feb 15, 2008.
I became very numb after reading this. I suddenly felt disappointed with myself for not keeping up the correspondence. I felt shame. I felt sad. A man who had influenced my life in such a positive way was now gone.
Anyway, I just wanted to share a small bit of my relationship with this man. I’m sure others have similar stories. Dr. Robert W. Hartwell was a devoted Father, Husband, Grandfather and friend. He will be missed sorely.
Fare Winds and Following Seas Robert Hartwell.
Farewell My Good Friend - September 17, 2009
8 years ago