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Music teacher dies after surgery

by Gretchen Orr

WALSENBURG- Cleveland Clinton, 27, the beloved music teacher who helped revive an endangered music curriculum in Re-1 schools, suffered a heart attack and died Saturday morning, Feb. 21 in Denver  after undergoing a gastrointestinal procedure.

    Peakview School held a memorial assembly on Monday and John Mall High School band members are holding a memorial assembly at 3:25 pm on Thursday Feb. 26, 2009.  It is open to the public.   If community members are interested in helping Clinton’s family, please call Maria at the school, 738-1610.

    Clinton moved here two years ago from Erie, Pennsylvania.  He took on the challenge of resurrecting the long defunct music program at John Mall, Gardner and Peakview Schools.  Although there were many in the community over the years who said it would be impossible to bring the music program back, he proved them wrong.  The new bands performed in concert to jampacked local audiences, clapping, cheering and stamping their feet in appreciation of the students’ efforts.  Clinton knew how to work the crowd, he intuitively understood what the Walsenburg audiences would respond to.

    He had a great love for composition, and started as a tuba and baritone performance major in college.  He wanted to go down that path originally, but decided that teaching was really his calling.  His high school band benefited from his composing talents, as they played many of his original works. 

    According to friend and fellow music teacher Suellen Levy, among the reasons for his success was his patience, good humor and appreciation for every child.  He never spoke badly about any students- “he was a kind and gentle soul, and children gravitated to him like bees to honey.” 

    He was also a member of the community wind ensemble, the Huerfano Winds, and took great satisfaction in seeing one of his clarinet students, Michael Pacheco, join the group as it was an extension of the high school program.  Pacheco says that he will make it his life’s work “to make sure that Mr. Clinton’s music stays alive.”

    The Winds held an informal memorial service at rehearsal on Monday for Clinton.  Members spoke of the energy and committment that he brought to the music program and to the community, and said that his “will be a tough act to follow.  His death is a loss for the schools, for our communities, and for the cause of music for our children.” 

    He was a long way fron Pennsylvania, but when asked about going home for vacations, he would say “Walsenburg is my home.”

    Gardner Principal Julia Marchant remembered Clinton as having an “amazing relationship” with the students of Gardner School. “Our hall is filled with dedications to Cleveland, with cards and drawings and essays from the students here.  The kids could really open up and talk with him.”  John Mall students have set up a display on stage at the school cafeteria in tribute to Clinton.  Many of them refer to him as their favorite teacher, and quote Clinton who frequently said, “We shall overcome.”

    Re-1 Superintenant Michael Doyle said that he was “shocked and grieved” at Clinton’s sudden demise, but went on to state that this would not mean the end of the music program. When asked how the kids were dealing with it, he said that it is hitting the kids hard.  Peakview held an assembly on Monday, and the children all wrote cards to Clinton’s sister.  Doyle continued, “We’ll get someone to cover for the rest of the year, and then we will advertise the position.”   When asked specifically if this could mean the end of the program, Doyle replied, “No,” stating that the district had had a hard time finding Cleveland when they first advertised for the position.  ”The tricky part will be finding another music teacher as there aren’t that many out there,” to continue the good work that Cleveland Clinton began.