'Fullerfest' will be a blast (from the past)

Opinion: Columns

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Kevin Bry

They are coming. They are returning to these villages from all over the country. They are coming from local communities, too, to join current Oak Parkers and River Foresters.

Some are professional musicians and music educators, while some are church or community choir members. Some have not sung in a choral setting for many years.

But they are coming together — upward of 200 OPRF alums — to honor the man and once more sing under the choral direction of Bob Fuller.

"Fullerfest," a concert featuring not only returning alums but also current students in OPRF's A Cappella Choir, will take place, the evening of Saturday, Sept. 15, in the high school's main auditorium. The concert, the proceeds of which will be distributed among charitable organizations, celebrates the teaching career of Robert Fuller, the former choral director and music department faculty member at OPRF from 1978-1992. It will be the culmination of months of planning and two days of rehearsal.

"I'm overwhelmed. I really can't say what it means to me without becoming emotional," said Fuller. When asked how it is that so many former students would return for such an event, he attributed it to "the fact that they liked what we did and want to get together and do it again."

Those who have known Bob Fuller are not surprised at his humility. It is just one of many qualities that endeared him to his students.

"Mr. Fuller had us sing fantastic, challenging music," said Amy Anderson de Jong, who was awarded the high school's Tradition of Excellence award for her professional music career. "He taught us skills, got us to listen, and inspired us to join together and draw beauty out of the air with our voices. To me it was magic."

Robert Fuller was born in Arkansas, worked in music education and directed church choirs before coming to OPRF at the invitation of then-Music Department Chair Jack Wirtz in 1978.

At the age of 15, Fuller was stricken with polio and, as a result, walked with the aide of leg braces. About his disability, Fuller said, "You make an effort to do the things you can do."

The things he has done included not only living in New York City while studying and working in music, but traveling to Europe with and without generations of OPRF students. In recent years, he has spent time with his children and grandchildren and has gone on occasional fishing trips to Canada. He has been assisted all along by his wife (and childhood sweetheart), Anita.

"I knew Bob before and after he had polio, and I was a registered nurse," she said. "There was never any doubt we could make it."

"I didn't realize at the time how lucky I was to have such a role model," said Diana Elizabeth Jordan, a Tradition of Excellence recipient for her work as an actor and disabilities activist. "I didn't have a lot of role models who had a disability … and he encouraged me artistically but he also made me work for it," Jordan added.

So deep are the feelings for this man that this is not the first such reunion honoring him and it will not be the last. Fuller was the founding director of the Oak Park-based Heritage Chorale, which honored him with a concert in the late 1990s. There was a concert at OPRF honoring both Fuller and Jack Wirtz, in 2001. And an Arkansas high school he taught at is planning an event next year.

His former students can't stop showing their admiration, appreciation and love for Bob Fuller. Like birds flying homeward, an image a number of his favorite choral pieces evoke, his students keep coming back to him.

 

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Bill Sullivan  

Posted: September 12th, 2012 4:15 PM

You can buy tickets at www.fullerfest.com or at the door.

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