Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Farewell, Jeff Fiedler...

... Though Not Goodbye

I put it this way in Building the Green Machine: the more you try to wrap a cover around history, the more it keeps spilling off the page.

I was stunned, and a bit silly-stomached, to hear from Don this week about Jeff Fiedler's decision to step down as Cavaliers director. (You can read about it here.)

Stunned, because Jeff is such a pillar of the organization. It's been his life for 35 years. And I figured it would be his life for a decade or two more. In December, driving with Don Warren someplace or other, I commented, "You know, Jeff will pass your record as corps director (for 25 years, from 1948-73) in 2016 or so." I was kidding, but I meant it. You know? And only a few days ago in this space I commented on my own son being ready to audition in 2023 or someting, with my hope that Jeff would still be director, a new Old Man for the history books.

I'm silly-stomached, which is to say a bit saddened, because I admire Jeff greatly. In telling a little more than an outline of his life in the book, from his childhood days as Little League impresario, and admirer of drum corps, to his tenure as drum major, then instructor, then program coordinator and assistant director, to his triumphant turn as director, I couldn't help it: as a writer I was tickled to tell the story of a man so dedicated, and so passionate, and so talented at what he does. I've seen his character and leadership reflected in the men and boys and volunteers in his charge. They were in very good hands, and it showed, on and off the field. This is a feeling I know is shared by many.

Still, getting past the first moment of hearing the news, and all the inevitable questions about why, and why now, I also feel the first stirrings of gladness and optimism for Jeff, and the great places he's bound to go from here in life. And I feel a continued awe and confidence in the Cavaliers as an organization. Here's why.

I'm excited for Jeff. Maybe it's too soon for that, for most of us. You miss him too much already. And will continue to. But the reason for my excitement is that it seemed no matter who I talked to about Jeff, in the next breath, after they're saying how grateful they were for his leadership, and his loyalty, and his talent, they would inevitably marvel at, "gee, how did we, the Cavaliers, get so lucky to keep him for so long?" A guy with Jeff's mind, and his personality, could go out and do so many amazing things beyond drum corps. Why they didn't lose him earlier, or at least in the years after college, and his degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, and the myriad opportunities that come up from the Cavalier network, was a theme repeated often.

So I'm excited for Jeff. Excited that having been freed up from the 24-hour days he puts in, and the grueling summer tours, and the constant questions from the board and the Old Man and parents, volunteers, alumni, members, prospects, etc., that he'll be entering a new chapter of his life, and writing it with fresh eyes and eager hands. I'm not saying "foo" on all that other stuff -- it was his life, and a rewarding part of it, or else he wouldn't have dedicated so much time, so much passion to it. Much as I say the stories of the Cavaliers and all its volunteers, alumni, members, fans, etc. are the stories of Don Warren's life, that's true of Jeff, too. He's enriched you, you've enriched him. But it's his life. And I know we'll all be cheering him on in his next endeavors, excited for him to find new challenges, career, love, family, contentment, time -- whatever is out there that's in store for him.

I also am not decrying this as a death knell or horrific blow to the Cavaliers. It's a shocker, no question. You can't lose someone so important, so talented, and not feel it. But I don't think Jeff is ever going to be really "gone" from the Cavaliers. His legacy and spirit will live on in a number of ways. And you know what? It's a testament to the organization that they have a whole ROSTER full of talented, driven folks who will make 2008 one of the best years ever. They're BOUND to. If a hallmark of the Cavaliers is consistency, it doesn't begin and end with one man. There is so much reflection and synergy between all the cogs and gears in the great Green Machine, lessons instilled by Don Warren, and Adolph DeGrauwe, and Don Heitzman, and Jeff Fiedler (to name a few), that are in very capable and talented and true-to-the-Cavalier-philosophy hands of stars like Bruno Zuccala, and David Bertman, and Richard Saucedo, and Erik Johnson, and Jim Ancona, and Jim Casella, and Scott Koter, and Mike Gaines.

The list goes on, as you well know. And the Cavaliers will, too. This is an organization that truly embraces, down to the last line on the volunteer form, the philosophy: If it's not good for the kids, what good is it? The Machine rolls on, and capably.

So, congratulations to Jeff on what awaits. We're with you. And congratulations to Bruno on taking the reins -- we know you'll do well.

With that, I leave this space open to comments, reminiscences, fare-thee-wells, thank-yous, etc. Or, share your thoughts at the blog for Building the Green Machine.

What's your favorite Jeff Fiedler story, from life, from the book? What do you see him doing now that his midnights aren't spoken for?

Below are two looks at the man in action: first, as drum major; second, in the stands on some tour stop from a shot by Sly Sybilski.

Jeff dm

Jeff dir


Anonymous said...

I never was a member of the Cavaliers, I tried, but by the time I was good enough I had to spend my summer making money instead of spending it. But, he was the visual guy at my highschool and I spent many a weekend trying out for his spectacular drum corps. Beyond those things, I count him as one of the four men who really altered the course of my life from a wayward youth with a criminal mind to a dedicated educator with a zest for showing the youth of today what is wonderful about the world. I'd like to take this moment to thank Jeff Fiedler directly. Shark, you'll always swim in the waters of my heart. NAS


Publicus Intoxicus said...

jeff was a father-figure to many, including myself, and his presence will be sorely missed, although I (and i'm sure everyone else) confidently wish him success in any of his future endeavors. During the short few years I marched, it was clear to me that his contribution clearly defined a level of self-sacrifice and dedication that one rarely sees in another person.