Bert Kroeker: Award of Distinction

Manitoba Choral Association Lifetime Honourary Member and ChoralFest Founder Bert Kroeker was honoured by the Manitoba Band Association at Tempo 2007 with an Award of Distinction. The award was presented by Cheryl Ferguson.

Cheryl's Speech

"Bert Kroeker is the single most important person to the proliferation of band programs in Manitoba in the last 40 years.

I first met Bert Kroeker through a phone conversation about 5 years ago. He was phoning to ask me to play for an instrumental group he was putting together for his church. Immediately, I began to realize what an amazing and enthusiastic man he is and found myself smiling widely listening to him talk. Our conversation winded around to Bert asking me if I knew Orv Anderson. I explained that in fact I had attended Fort Richmond Collegiate and Orv was my high school band director. Immediately there was an exclamation: “YOU’RE A CENTURION!!!” (referring to FRC’s school logo/mascot). This led to a long discussion about Fort Richmond, Orv and Bert’s adventures. Our conversation (and every one that has since followed with Bert) ended with him encouraging me to “Fly high, Centurion!” At the time, I didn’t realize how “high flying” this guy really was, but over the past five years, Bert’s contribution to music education in Manitoba has been revealed to me. Bert has had a profound impact on the formation of band programs in Manitoba and that is the reason I feel he is the IDEAL candidate for the 2007 Award of Distinction. In fact, George Douglas has stated “This recognition is long overdue – Bert should have been the first person to win this award!”

As Orv Anderson puts it, “Bert was the catalyst for many of the band programs in Manitoba”. In the early 1960’s Bert was the energetic young principal of Golden Gate Junior High School. He had a vision to start a band program. Bert was incredibly committed and enthusiastic about this vision that the program was a great success. In fact, Golden Gate’s program became well known and was actually one of the strongest programs around, regardless of grade level. When students at Golden Gate grew up and went to high school, they wanted to continue playing, so Silver Heights had to come up with a program for them. This resulted in a “ripple effect” throughout the St. James School Division, as more and more schools wanted what Bert had so successfully set up at Golden Gate.

When Fort Richmond Collegiate opened in 1967, Bert was selected as principal and set out to make the school truly “high flying”. As soon as there were enough students in the student body, Bert started a band at FRC. During the first six years of the FRC band program, there were seven different band directors, none of whom were specifically trained to do the job. In spite of this, Bert’s vision for an outstanding band program prevailed and his enthusiasm carried the program. When the grade 7-9 students moved to the newly formed Acadia Jr. High, the band program envisioned by Bert went with the students. Band programs at Vincent Massey, A. A. Leach, General Byng, Viscount Alexander and Pembina Crest soon followed.

In the spring of 1975, Orv Anderson interviewed for his job as Director of Bands at Fort Richmond. The interview started on a Friday evening and didn’t end until about 3:30 AM, as Bert needed time to proudly play recordings of every FRC band performance dating back to day one. The interview continued on Saturday, when Bert and Merle Grott (vice-principal) sat in the band room with Orv and tried to figure out a course description including tutorial sessions and assessment techniques that could be presented to the Department of Education. The end result was that the Department of Education approved Bert and Merle’s proposal and a full-time band position was created. At one point in the interview, Orv asked Bert and Merle how long it would take to get to the airport, as his flight back to Minnesota was to leave in 20 minutes. Bert replied that it took about a half hour, but that they could probably make it. In true “high flying” form, Bert got Orv to the airport exactly one minute before the plane was to take off. (In the end, Orv missed his flight anyways, but is there anyone else but high-flying Bert that could make it from the south end of the city to the airport in 19 minutes flat?).

Bert had a close friend, Merv Michalyshen, who was the principal at Hastings Junior High. Merv saw what was going on at Fort Richmond and wanted to start a similar program at Hastings. After much discussion with Bert and observation at FRC, Merv started a program at Hastings, which led the development of the strong program at Dakota Collegiate, which led to the development of the program at Minnetonka, which led to the development of the program at Glenlawn….strong band programs in St. Vital were born. Based on all this historical data, is clear that Bert was a catalyst to the development of band programs in Pembina Trails, Louis Riel and St. James.

Bert is a passionate person, and music is his passion of choice. As the current principal of FRC, Lorraine Carter, states: “Bert is all about giving everything he can for the betterment of the cause….he is so committed in what he believes in”. That commitment was never more clear than during his time as principal of Fort Richmond. For a full 12 years, Bert was the director of full-scale musicals at the school. He would put all he had into the musicals, making sure they were the best they could be. He would get over 100 students involved in the musical (which was a large percentage of the student body at the time). He would spend his entire evening in the theatre working on the musical and then begin working on his principal duties at 10:00PM. He would sometimes have to work until 3:00 AM on his administrative duties so that he could spend his days and early evenings serving the school and helping his vision to be realized. Bert also found music to be so important that he actually started the FRC choir and directed it himself (while still acting as principal) for its first three years.

Bert is well-known for the atmosphere he can create in a building or in a program. His energy and enthusiasm is truly contagious. He is fast-forward all the way. (This is evidenced by the fact that he has been known to get three speeding tickets between Winnipeg and Fargo, and also by the fact that his boat’s maximum speed is 49 mph and he never goes 48-mph or less). Bert is truly an amazing leader and an inspiring character and is truly one of the reasons Manitoba has such a strong tradition of high achieving band programs.

Bert also had a strong contribution to what is now the Manitoba Band Association. Not only was he a board member for the years 1982-83, 1983-84 & 1985-86, he also took on the task of getting the organization incorporated with tax-free status. The Manitoba government would not at first let us use the term “Manitoba Band Association” because of confusion with native “bands”, so in the first several years, the association was known as the “Manitoba Instrumental Music Association” (MIMA). Bert even designed the letterhead logos for the official MIMA stationary during the association’s years as “MIMA”!

Bert Kroeker has had such an impact on the history of the development of bands in Manitoba that I feel he is a prime candidate for the Award of Distinction this year. Please consider giving Bert his long-overdue recognition for his contributions toward making Manitoba the strong “band province” it is today."

Respectfully submitted by Cheryl Ferguson. Cheryl is the Director of Bands at Fort Richmond Collegiate. She has taught music at all levels and maintains an active life as a band clinician, French horn teacher, and a mother.