The Milaca Middle School band will have a different sound after 34 years.

Music teacher and band director Martin Garber has announced he will retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Garber came to Milaca in 1987 after graduating from the University of Minnesota, Morris, by the way of Dent, Minnesota and the lake country of Otter Tail County.

He settled in the community with his wife Gwen, a Milaca High School social studies teacher. The couple raised a family of three boys in Milaca, built a home, and became vested in the community.

There’s a bit of irony of how Garber began his teaching career in Milaca.

Gwen had a interview for a teaching position.

“I grabbed a tie and tagged along,” Garber recalls.

While Gwen was interviewing at the high school, Martin Garber made a visit to the old middle school on Central Avenue and inquired about a job.

When the new school year began, it was Martin who had the teaching job. Gwen became a substitute teacher and was offered a full-time teaching position a couple of years later.

Thirty-four years later, Martin Garber has outlasted what he refers to as his “Lucky Seven” — seven superintendents, seven high school principals, and seven high school band directors.

When Garber arrived in Milaca, there were just three bands at the middle school level: a fifth and sixth grade band, a seventh and eighth grade band, and a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade jazz band.

“Within seven years we grew the program to seven bands,” Garber said.

The bands included concert bands for fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders and jazz bands for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

“At the height, I was teaching 340 kids,” Garber said.

That didn’t include kids in the fifth grade marching band and a junior high marching band, Garber said.

For both Martin and Gwen Garber, teaching in Milaca are the only jobs the couple as has.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Martin said.

Along the way, Garber got to help develop and instill a love of music in Milaca’s young ones, he said.

Garber taught more than 3,500 students. He has conducted about 300 concert performances and has led his marching band students through more than 200 parades.

The one thing Garber learned very early on is that Milaca loves its music programs, and when you make it fun, they want more.

For Garber and his students, there was also a lot of fun had, as well as some important life lessons learned along the way, Garber said.

With his marching bands, Garber traveled throughout Minnesota sharing the gift of music.

In retirement, he sees himself continuing to travel.

“I see Gwen and I traveling a lot and seeing the country,” Garber said. “We have a lot of cousins, friends, and relatives we want to reconnect with.”

Garber also sees himself giving more time to his hobby as a woodworker, doing some volunteering, and maybe picking up a few odd jobs. He would also like to be a substitute music teacher.

“I’d also like to learn to weld and do some fishing,” he said.

And of course, Garber won’t abandon his music. It’s one of the loves of his life.

As a music teacher, Garber played what he calls “their stuff” and he was there to help them master that music.

“I’m going to keep playing – but for myself,” he said.

A trombone player by trade, Garber says he would like to play the saxophone and clarinet more and learn to play the flute.

As Garber prepares to lead students in their last song under the longtime band director, he has some advice for the students of Milaca.

“Make the best of your time here,” he said.

As Ferris Bueller said in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

He offered some advice to his colleagues at the two Milaca schools, as well: “Please keep being the wonderful people you are. You are the best. I value every one of you,” he said.

“Thanks for the incredible journey,” Garber said.


Jeff Hage is the managing editor of the Monticello Times. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

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