For the past 25 years, Dave Gudmastad has been more than just the band director at Cotter High School. Since joining the music department in 1987, Gudmastad, or Mr. G., as his students call him, has won many championships, marched thousands of miles and eaten far too many turkey sandwiches. His dedication to bettering Winona’s youth through music has reached across generations and touched the lives of countless people. With the 2011-2012 school year complete, Gudmastad announced his plans to retire. On Saturday, Gudmastad will embark on his final marching band trip with his 97 summer students for a four-day adventure to Chicago.
In his entire time at Cotter, with the exception of a winter trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Gudmastad said his marching band has never stayed in a hotel during their travels.
“You can’t fit everyone in the same room at a hotel,” he said. “People have always said it’s the whole thought that it’s not all about the destination, but the journey. But in the case of the Cotter band, that notion has become reality.”
There are no unnecessary pit stops along the way and whether the band is going to the Twin Cities or across the county, the driver keeps driving well into the night to ensure the band arrives. For a compact period of time, Gudmastad said his band eats, sleeps and practices as a unit.
“There may be someone getting ready for bed while behind you someone is brushing their teeth,” Gudmastad said. “I had a girl ask one time where she could spit her toothpaste out. These buses become their home away from home and we always keep chugging along.”
Once the band reaches the destination, it isn’t plush, king size beds and flat screen TVs that await them, but rather school gymnasium floors. The tight budget the school works with for band travel limits the expenses Gudmastad has during any trip.
“The cost for us to stay on a gym floor is zero,” he said.
Reminiscing, Gudmastad recalls driving through Ontario and staying at what he thought was one of the most interesting places he’d ever been.
“They gave us a hockey rink to sleep in,” he said. “They took out the ice, of course, but we slept on this huge slab of concrete, cold concrete I might add. Our night light was the scoreboard that hung in the middle of the ceiling.”
In 2011, plans to stay on another gym floor fell through at a Boston school but a recreational facility stepped up to accommodate the entire crew. The center was home to the Boston Breakers, the women’s professional soccer team.
“There was one small problem; there were no showers,” Gudmastad said. “The guys were so great to us and went to the store and purchased outdoor camping showers. The boys were in the front of the recreation center and the girls were in the back. The showers were ice cold but some people from the custodial staff ran about two blocks of hose just to get hot water.”
The experience is a fond one, Gudmastad said, with everyone remembering the shower incident at the Boston recreation facility.
Pinpointing his favorite trip is not an easy feat, Gudmastad said. Special memories exist in each, complete with highlights and low lights. A drum major came down with an illness that sent him to the emergency room during a trip to the Independence Day Parade in Philadelphia last year.
“We were leading the parade and we played God Bless America beside Miss America and the entire mall was crowded with people,” Gudmastad said. “That is sort of the microcosm that our life can be. But we were missing a drum major who spent the entire time at the hospital. He eventually was well enough and was released.
“Finding all those stories to talk about at the end of the trip is the fun part,” Gudmastad said. “The kids will talk about the competitions and the successes but if you talk to them about what they remember most, I think they would say everything that led up to the events.”
Living just down the block from Cotter, Gudmastad walks to work and lives a very healthy lifestyle. Visiting a fast food restaurant during a trip many years ago, Gudmastad asked himself if he wouldn’t eat the food, why should the children?
“The parents and volunteers decided to bring coolers with the makings for salads and turkey sandwiches and rather than splitting up at a restaurant, they can eat together,” Gudmastad said.
Looking forward, Gudmastad said he doesn’t see his retirement so much as slowing down, but rather shifting gears. He will be teaching at Winona State University in the fall and will be giving his time at the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts to teach a jazz program and brass studio class.
“I’m not good at relaxing,” Gudmastad said. “I look at these opportunities as something that will get my adrenaline pumping and keep it pumping. I don’t care what subject the teacher is teaching. The only thing that matters is what happens between the teacher and the student when the door slams shut.”
Gudmastad’s lifelong philosophy and e-mail sign off, “onward and upward,” is a lesson he said he hopes has been ingrained in his students. He said he hopes this message trickles down from his past and current students, to the incoming ones.
“I sort of identify with what I like to call the duct tape theory,” he said. “You stretch everything as far as it can go and you do what you need to do to make things happen for the kids.
“The school is always locked up when I get there and I turn on the lights to start the day,” Gudmastad said. “And I’m usually the one turning them off. It’s not a bad thing though because I’ve never seen this job as work.”
Lining the street during the Steamboat Days Parade, students, family members and supporters donned blue “Mr. G.” shirts as a final sign of thanks.
“I asked for the students to not do anything to say goodbye because I feel that’s like a eulogy,” he said. “I’m not dead. But the shirts were a fun surprise.”
Whether Gudmastad remembers most when the bus windows shattered while climbing a peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park, visiting Lake Louise in Calgary, living by the sound of the school bell, or choking down one last turkey sandwich, he said there will always be something more worth remembering.
“It’s always been about these kids,” Gudmastad said. “It’s been a gradual process and the kids have made themselves better. They really feed on their own successes and are very self-motivating. I wish I could magically tell you what I do. But it’s all the kids. This isn’t a bunch of lip service. This band is really amazing. Life has been good.”