The University of Olivet to Honor Patricia Brumbaugh ’76 – A Mentor to Many

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The University of Olivet’s 22nd annual Leadership for Individual and Social Responsibility Awards Dinner was held on Wednesday, May 16 at the Country Club of Lansing. The 2018 honorees are leaders in their chosen professions and reflect the college’s vision of Education for Individual and Social Responsibility. Patricia Brumbaugh ’76, conductor of Northwestern Michigan College/Community Band and director of bands at Traverse City West Senior High School; Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan; and Barbara Fulton, Ph.D., director of community development at Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital, are celebrated for bettering the communities they live in and encouraging others to do the same.

The Power of a Mentor

Patricia “Pat” Brumbaugh has served as a mentor many times in her life. Shaping her career as a teacher and conductor at high schools, colleges and youth ensembles throughout the nation, Pat has touched the lives of countless students. Her dedication to helping all of the young men and women she leads grow – both musically and personally – stems from the tremendous impact Pat’s own high school band director had on her.

“When I was 12 years old, I started taking band under the direction of a young teacher who became my mentor, even to this day, John Whitwell,” Pat explained. “He taught me how to treat people and showed me in his actions and words what it was to be a good citizen. He treated me with respect, something that wasn’t the norm when you were a female in 1965. Even when I told him that I wanted to become a band director, John never flinched. He took me under his wing and began to teach me everything I needed to know for a successful future. I have always wanted to pay it forward because of him.”

In addition to giving Pat music lessons, John also taught her how to tune and fix instruments, took her to state music conferences, helped her build a network in the music industry, and ultimately inspired her to attend college. In 1976, Pat graduated from The University of Olivet with a degree in music and psychology, but the hands-on skills she learned as a Comet gave her the confidence to make her dream a reality.

Comet Conductor

During her time on campus, Pat experienced the Margaret Upton Conservatory of Music rise from plans on paper to a prominent building on campus, providing students with an innovative space to learn and rehearse. She was part of several musicals and ensembles on campus, and even had the opportunity to conduct the orchestra during several performances, including well-known productions such as “The Mikado,” “Anything Goes,” and “West Side Story.” Some of Pat’s favorite memories are standing in the orchestra pit, along with special rehearsals held outside under the Great Oaks and chances to perform with several different ensembles in a single semester.

“Almost all of my friends from high school went to large universities in the state,” Pat said. “They were able to learn amazing literature and have the experience of being in a Big Ten marching band, but I had more – more opportunities to do things that they never had, like conducting, playing several different instruments, the ability to call professors in the evening, and being in small classes taught by professors instead of teaching assistants.”

In addition, Pat says those opportunities gave her the confidence to become a leader, and she was encouraged to grow her leadership skills at The University of Olivet. Often in the 1970s, women were overlooked for leadership positions, but Pat’s stubborn demeanor helped her disregard stereotypes and overcome oppression to achieve her biggest goals. She is extremely thankful that students never heard the word “no,” and she was always encouraged to be the woman who broke into a male-dominated field.

Nothing Stands in the way of Success

Today, Pat serves as conductor of the Northwestern Michigan College/Community Band and director of bands at Traverse City West Senior High School. Throughout her career, she has held roles as director of orchestral activities at the University of Memphis, conductor of the Germantown Symphony, assistant conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony, and creator and conductor of the Memphis Area Youth Wind Ensemble.

Pat also spent four years as director of bands at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and taught for 12 years at Ann Arbor Huron High School, Northwest High School (Jackson), and Central Montcalm Public Schools (Stanton). In addition, she has conducted all-state bands in Texas, Florida, Kentucky and Indiana, and continues to serve as a clinician, adjudicator and guest conductor. Personally, Pat’s talents include trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, percussion, clarinet and saxophone, but her primary instrument is the French horn.

In 1984, Pat was even voted “Outstanding Young Band Conductor” in the nation by the American School Band Directors Association and in 2006, she was voted “Outstanding Band Teacher of the Year” in Michigan. Her community involvement doesn’t end there, and additionally Pat is a member of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (Emeritus) and the prestigious American Bandmasters Association.

Paying it Forward

“I feel like being a mentor is my mission,” Pat emphasized. “I think that individual and social responsibility means that we take care of each other. We treat others with the same kindness and respect that we expect for ourselves. It’s really very simple. Don’t be selfish, open your eyes to the needs of others and think of the whole. That’s why I believe serving as a mentor is what is truly important. Many of the young men and women I work with don’t know what they are capable of. They draw the bar for themselves low, but their futures are limitless. With the right support, they will believe in themselves and reach their potential. I know what that’s like personally, thanks to John. He made such a difference in my life, and I owe that to my students now.”

Pat added that compassion, communication, kindness, strong problem solving skills and taking the initiative to reach out to someone in need are the only things required to make a difference in the lives of others. She says watching those she mentors thrive is a huge reward, and her only goal is to continue paying it forward.


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