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Frank E. Owen

August 26, 2022 - 9:05am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Frank E. Owen, jim owen, batavia, music, notify.

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The way Jim Owen tells the story, his father Frank had very high standards when it came to music, and not every Owen in the family made the cut.

“My sister Kathy was a very good singer, and my brother Robert was a very good singer, and then there’s Jim,” the honorary Mayor of Redfield Parkway said, adding that his father wasn’t mean about it. “He was very encouraging of me, he knew I liked sports … cross-country, basketball, and golf.”

Jim just saw a dream come true with the dedication of his father’s name for Batavia High School’s auditorium. Frank E. Owen was a very well-educated man, and one that would be “humbled but very appreciative” of the acknowledgment of how much he contributed to the music program, Jim said.

After a 37-year career as music director at BHS, the elder Owen joined the Board of Education, eventually earning the rank of president. Those “very high standards” came into play when Jim shared his intent to apply for a teaching job at the city school district.

“He said ‘no way.’ He was very ethical and didn’t think I should work in the district,” Jim said.

So Jim worked as a teacher in Sacketts Harbor, and later at Hamburg Central School, where he enjoyed his work and coaching cross-country for 35 years. He retired from Hamburg Central in 2003 and then -- finally -- obtained a job as a substitute teacher at his original choice of Batavia City Schools. 

Frank's legacy
Frank founded a school band in 1930 and raised money to buy new uniforms and instruments. He later founded the community orchestra in 1947 and was inducted into the Music of Note Hall of Fame. He would also “go the extra mile to get students into college,” Jim said, “by using his great influence.”

It would seem as though Jim was destined to be a smart, teacher-type, given his father’s background and his mom, Natalie Walker Owen, who spoke Latin, French and Spanish, and was on the library board. Jim has been involved in education for 55 years and counting, he said, and has shown that same appreciation for his students and colleagues as his dad did.

He chuckled a bit remembering that his sister Kathy (who died in 2019) was fooling around in class one day, and dad kicked her out. Those standards again came into play, and “he didn’t have favorites.”

“In that sense, he wanted you to be focused. He was selective and wanted good quality,” Jim said. “One of his great contributions was, he was very, very proud of his choristers. They were singing on WBTA and on Jay Gordon Bridge armed force broadcast. Some former students in Korea could listen to it.”

As much as Frank has been discussed in preparation for and during the dedication event, there are tidbits that haven’t been listed. He was a violinist, raised in England, and would help kids of all nationalities, Jim said. He was very good in spelling and articulation and even helped local announcer Chuck Platt practice before going on air at WBTA.

“Dad would teach him how to articulate for broadcasts,” Jim said.

Frank worked in Williamsport, Penn. before applying for a job in Batavia. The rest, as it’s been said, is history in that he reformed the music department. He always preferred to use his middle initial in his name (E is for Earl, by the way), even though he sometimes was called Frankie by mistake.

Current high school band Director and Music Department Chairwoman Jane Haggett has heard all about the senior Owen from Jim, who has done a lot of substitute teaching in the district. Naming the auditorium after Frank means something important for the district as a whole, she said.

“I think it just really reinforces Batavia's desire to have a strong music education for their students. I also think that it's in relationship to drama, and our musical productions, that it all correlates to each other,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a musical production club and produce our musicals without our choral program and our instrumental program and so forth. It just wouldn't happen. Or not as well, I should say. But I have to say that it gives the music students a voice.”

Haggett knows what it’s like to have music in your soul; she knew at an early age what her career was going to be, she said.

“I started playing piano at age five, and flute when I was in fifth grade, and by the time I was in sixth grade, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to go into music. I knew I wanted to teach. I didn't know what level or for high school teacher or elementary, or just a private lesson student, but I know I wanted to do something in music,” she said. “I felt like I was successful. And it made me happy. So that's why I pursued it.”

Likewise, as a young violinist, Frank Owen seemed to know his direction in life. While at the city school district, he taught the likes of City Councilwoman Patti Pacino and state Assemblyman Steve Hawley. Jim credits Pacino for putting much time and effort into the dedication, inviting fellow alums and pulling together notes about the late music director. Learning music from Frank E. Owen wasn’t just ordinary education, Pacino said, “it was magical.”

Jim’s parents “all of the fine qualities that Batavia citizens represent,” and Frank especially added drive, enthusiasm and talent to music education, Jim said. His dad even recruited a special guest to visit the district: John Philip Sousa.

Sousa, a patriotic composer who died in 1932, served as the 17th director of The President's Own band from 1880 to 1892. The most famous director of the band, he wrote the national march "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and the official march of the Marine Corps, "Semper Fidelis." Jim has an autobiography written by Sousa, “Marching Along,” with Sousa’s signature, made out to Frank E. Owen in 1929.

Not too shabby Frank E. Owen.

See related story of dedication HERE.

August 26, 2022 - 9:00am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Frank E. Owen, City Schools, notify, batavia.

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About 100 people gathered Thursday evening to honor the late Frank E. Owen by naming Batavia High School’s entertainment venue after him.

The Frank E. Owen  Auditorium has a nice ring to it, his son Jim said via a pre-recorded video during the live-streamed event. Jim has been battling cancer and his medical professionals wouldn’t let him leave his treatment facility. Nevertheless, he spoke proudly of his father and suggested that the honor is about more than Frank E. Owen.

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“This is to honor my father, but it’s more important to honor all the teachers and students — past, present, and future — the music department, and all those who use the auditorium,” he said. “It’s to honor the school system. He was very proud of his teachers and his students.”

A cat photobombed his talk, which brought some humor to a moment charged with emotion. Jim calmly continued talking as he acknowledged the cat’s presence with a few rubs on the head, which is an example of his kind-hearted dedication to whatever is before him. Other speakers pointed to how much they could know of Frank by watching his legendary qualities unfold within Jim.

“Jim carries on his father’s legacy by influencing the students,” High School Principal Paul Kesler said.

Frank’s former students, Patti Pacino and Liz Johnson Conway, both 1965 grads, shared how their music teacher was disciplined, down to earth and fair. He expected nothing less than a commitment from everyone.

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Music has been a strong piece of Pacino’s life, thanks in large part to the lessons instilled by Frank Owen.

“He presumed we were as dedicated as he was,” she said, listing his many requirements. There was no sheet music on stage, as everyone was to memorize their songs, and no jingling of bracelets on stage, or even the chance fainting spell without consideration not to disrupt the performance, she said.

“Why would high school students put with such rules?” she said. “Because it was magical.”

Students loved music, loved to sing, and learned about teamwork along the way, she said. They all worked toward the common goal of producing lovely choral music. On one of his very first days at the city school district, Frank invited everyone to sing, and they “sang like they never sang before,” Pacino said, reading a report from 1927.

If Mary Poppins had a brother, it would be Frank E. Owen, she said.

Conway only studied with Frank for two years, but in those two short years, “I learned to like and admire” this man of music, she said. He demanded excellence with “pitch, diction and musicality,” she said.

His conducting was classy and subtle, with no large flashy moves, she said, and his secret weapon reining kids in was “the look.”

“Danny VanDetta had the paddle, and Frank Owen had the look,” she said. “Communicating through lyrics and connected to sound, he strengthened the music in this area.”

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Superintendent Jason Smith, an avid musician himself, shared some of Frank Owen’s history:

He established the music department at BCSD in 1927 and created the first band and BHS Choristers, a well-known vocal group that reaped many accolades and awards, taped recordings and broadcasts during Owen’s 37-year career at Batavia. He then went on to serve on the Batavia Board of Education, including as president and was actively involved in community music.

“When the Board was considering naming the auditorium in Mr. Owen’s honor, I received numerous emails advocating for this to occur,” Smith said, reading some of those messages. A few snippets are below:

As a graduate of BHS and a member of the Choristers all my years at the High School, I can tell you that he not only instilled a love of music but a sense of service to community.

Mr. Owen was a humble master of music, respected and praised. My brothers and I were in choristers and band. My oldest brother became a music teacher with Mr. Owen’s urging, along with many other graduates.

Some of our fondest memories are the annual live Christmas (morning) broadcasts of the Chorus from the former Elks building on Ellicott Street, and the copies of that program on vinyl - blue records! - that each of us could purchase.  Both Jim and I have included a link to one of those albums on our Class websites.

I can't think of a more fitting honor than naming the Auditorium after Mr. Owen - a 'home' to so many of us during our years at Batavia High School and recognition of the impact he had on so many lives.

Smith also read a tribute recited to Frank upon his retirement in 1964.

“Mr. Owen’s flair as an educator has to be classed in the greater range. Music to him is not merely an abstract subject. It is something that is a very real part of life with ramifications in history, culture and the development of civilization,” Smith said. “Those who had the advantage of his teaching and leadership gained not only exceptional appreciation and understanding of music but also of the wider spectrum.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Assemblyman Steve Hawley sent representatives to present proclamations for the occasion, and City Council President Eugene Jankowski gave one from the city with the wish that the community will find the auditorium space to be a place where folks can relax and be inspired.

The evening also included a ribbon-cutting, a vocal concert of pieces chosen by current Music Director Jane Haggett, including "Adeste Fidelis," meaning come, faithful ones, and a patriotic song since Frank always typically included one for concerts, she said. He loved "America," she said, "so we're going be doing that."

 A reception cake was bedecked with the theme of the night, and memorabilia was on display for guests to see.

Top photo: Abigail Hoerbelt, who comes from a musical family, cuts the ribbon during a dedication of the Frank E. Owen Auditorium Thursday evening at Batavia High School. Music Director Jane Haggett, City Council President Eugene Jankowski, alumni and board member Liz Johnson Conway, Jenn Lendvay and Patti Pacino flank her on the left as Chamber of Commerce Interim President Tom Turnbull, Board President John Marucci, Superintendent Jason Smith and Principal Paul Kesler stand on the right. Photo by Joanne Beck.

Photo of reception cake by Joanne Beck, and memorabilia and speakers by Howard Owens.

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August 6, 2022 - 1:33pm
posted by Press Release in Frank E. Owen, Batavia HS, batavia, City Schools, news.

Press release:

On Thursday, August 25, 2022, the Batavia City School District will host the official dedication ceremony for the Frank E. Owen Auditorium at Batavia High School. 

The ceremony will begin at 7:00 pm in the auditorium and will include an official ribbon cutting, and performances by Batavia High School music students, alumni, staff, and community members.  

The evening will feature remarks from Superintendent Jason Smith, Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler, and Batavia High School Music Department Chair Jane Haggett. The ceremony will also include an appearance by Frank E. Owen’s son, Jim Owen.

On May 5, 2022, the Batavia City School District Board of Education officially approved the renaming of the Batavia High School auditorium to the “Frank E. Owen Auditorium.” 

Frank E. Owen started his career with the Batavia City School District in 1927, where he directed the orchestra and was appointed the head of the music department. Owen was responsible for many musical “firsts” across the district: the first BCSD band was formed in 1930, and he founded the Batavia High School Choristers in 1935. He directed the first school musical in 1937 and formed the first jazz/swing choir in the 1960s. Owen retired in 1964, completing a career that spanned 37 years of dedication to the students of Batavia. He passed away on July 9, 1978, in Batavia, and shortly after, a scholarship was set up in his name and is awarded each year to a student pursuing a career in music education.

For anyone who is interested in joining the performance in celebration of Frank E. Owen, more information can be found here.

Admission to the event is free. The Frank E. Auditorium is located at Batavia High School, 260 State Street, Batavia, New York.  

May 5, 2022 - 10:26pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Frank E. Owen, music, arts, notify.

It was the spring of 1927 when a “very unique”assembly program took place at Batavia High School, Patti Pacino says.

Frank E. Owen had just begun as music director, and he asked students to “sing with me.” Not only did they sing, but the school newspaper described it as something to behold, all due to Owen’s incredible influence, Pacino said.

“Because of his strength and excellence, a score of music groups have grown here,” Pacino, a city resident and councilwoman, said during the Batavia City Schools board meeting Thursday. “I’m here to represent hundreds of alumni, asking you to allow us to honor the man who started here at Batavia High School by naming the BHS auditorium after Frank E. Owen, as a show of respect and thanks.”

The board previously had a discussion about the merit of naming a piece of school property after someone notable. Most board members voiced support of the idea and Board President Alice Benedict opposed it. Owen had been suggested for the high school auditorium, and the public was invited to weigh in on the decision. His prominence has been recognized with a Musicians of Note Award in 2019 and a scholarship in his name for seniors pursuing a degree in music.

Upon his arrival, Owen formed and inspired a girls and a boys glee club, bands, an orchestra, a drumline, musical theater shows and a host of aspiring musicians throughout his time to present day, Pacino said. She wasn’t alone in her zeal to see Owen honored in this way. Melzie Case, a Batavia Middle School music teacher, and middle school band director Sean Williams each endorsed Owen as an appropriate candidate for the auditorium name.

Although Case had never met Owen — he was music director from 1927 to 1964 — she’s had a sense of who he was.

“I can feel Frank E. Owen’s work and spirit in our music department today,” she said. “(Naming the auditorium after him) will allow us to honor all past, present and future musicians.”

Williams first gave a brief history lesson on other well-known city icons, such as VanDetta Stadium named as a “fantastic testament” to the positive accomplishments of Coach Daniel VanDetta. Williams then turned to Owen. “This man graced us for 27 years,” Williams said. He added that it would be only fitting to honor him as so many athletic coaches and athletes have been recognized with the Athletic Hall of Fame.

The board required no more discussion when it came time to vote. The move was approved by a vote of yes from Barbara Bowman, Jennifer Lendvay, Michelle Humes, John Marucci and Chezeray Rolle, and the lone no vote from Benedict. Benedict had previously said she wasn’t against Owen but did not agree that pieces of school property should be named after a particular person. 

She announced the board's next move after the vote.

“We will be dedicating the auditorium to Frank E. Owen,” she said.

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