CEHD alums Norm Staska (B.S. ’57, M.Ed. ’69) and Joan McGonigal Staska (B.S. ’57) met in the bowels of Northrop Auditorium, drawn there—and together—by love of music.
Norm, alto saxophonist in the marching band, arranged music for the Gopher football halftime shows, toiling in a basement office for four cents a measure. Joan, a French hornist, earned even less temping as the band director’s secretary in an adjoining room.
“Eventually Norm asked me to go grab ‘pizza,’” Joan recalls. “I said, ‘Never heard of it, but I’ll try it if you do.’ It only took him 40 years to propose after that.”
Long wait for an overture!
Norm came to the U from Owatonna High School via the Navy. He was already studying and playing music with Red McLeod, a professional music arranger. Red got him the arranging job—including the office next to Joan’s. Joan played trumpet at Anoka High but switched to French horn after transferring to St. Paul Central—good news for the U, which was short on French hornists.
Both made concert band, and Joan arranged her work hours so Norm could walk her to the parking garage at night. But after earning their degrees—Joan in elementary education, Norm in music education—the couple separated. Norm took a position in Litchfield, and Joan taught fifth grade in Robbinsdale.
By the time Norm returned to the Twin Cities as a band director in Columbia Heights, Joan had married. Norm himself was enjoying life as a big-band musician and music author: In 2013, his and Red’s Scale Etudes celebrated its 50th year in print, and their Rhythm Etudes will reach the same milestone in 2016. But Norm’s extracurriculars never overshadowed his devotion to music education.
“Band provided a place for kids to blossom, especially shyer kids who needed to shine but wanted a sense of collegiality,” he says. He believes the fine arts are crucial to education, encouraging both flexibility and precision in thinking.
Joan agrees that kids need safe spaces in which to challenge themselves. One of her four children had special needs and was initially denied enrollment in their local school.
“I demanded an assessment and negotiated a trial period,” Joan relates. “When it ended, Kevin’s kindergarten teacher refused to let them kick him out!”
The experience convinced Joan to put her education background to work by sharing with others what she learned about how schools and students can thrive together.
Norm and Joan reunited in 1992 while helping to plan the University Band Centennial. Joan had been widowed, and Norm, despite a vibrant social life, remained single. They married in 1998, four decades after graduating college together.
Norm’s big-band career ended just six years ago, at age 80. Joan worked as a paraprofessional at Park Center High School and served as president of the Osseo Retired Educators Association. Both remain active U band alums. They return each fall for concerts and took in last year’s Homecoming game at TCF Bank Stadium.
“It’s been great fun getting reconnected to the college,” Joan says, Norm nodding assent.
Music to our ears.
Story by Trygve Throntveit | Photo by Greg Helgeson | Fall 2015