OPRF alums are gathering for 'Fullerfest'

Opinion: Columns

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Kevin Bry

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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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Reader Comments

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Fred from westmont  

Posted: September 19th, 2012 2:29 PM

It was a great event. The DVD is on Sale now on the website http://www.fullerfest.com/items/Fullerfest 2012 on DVD.aspx?categ=Tickets

Mary hartman from Ocean View. DE  

Posted: September 16th, 2012 6:05 PM

Wow. Mr. Fuller's choir was such an important part of my children's training and to this day they are appreciative of the opportunity they had to be part of his choir. Mr. Fuller, thank you so much.

Jason Thoms from Bronxville  

Posted: September 9th, 2012 8:35 PM

I wish I would have know about Fullerfest before reading this today. I sang for Mr. Fuller in his last two years at OPRF. He inspired me in those two years to worked towards a career as a choral director. I remember that when I was accepted at St. Olaf he handed out Beautiful Savior and had us learn it. I completed a MM and DMA in Choral Conducting, and I believe that Mr. Fuller's influence was strongly behind this happening. I now am Director of Choral Activities at Concordia College-NY.

Bill Sullivan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 7th, 2012 1:01 PM

The concert will be September 15, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. in the Oak Park - River Forest High School Auditorium located at 201 N. Scoville, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Tickets may be purchased on www.fullerfest.com or at the Sullivan Law Offices located at 107 N. Marion, Oak Park, Illinois 60301. We hope you can join us for this wonderful celebration.

Lee Kesselman from Glen Ellyn, IL  

Posted: September 7th, 2012 9:50 AM

I never sang with Bob Fuller, but I served with him on the Illinois board of American Chorale Directors Association and heard his choirs. Bob was a first-rate educator, a fine musician and a beloved colleague. He took courageous stands in our organization and stood tall for compassion, justice, and for doing the right thing for the right reasons. I have often thought about Bob Fuller since he left teaching and wish him a joyful reunion with his students.

Bill Hoff from Raleigh, NC  

Posted: September 7th, 2012 9:14 AM

I wish I could be making it back for this tribute; I was able to make the one in 2001. I encourage all of you, if you are in the Oak Park area next weekend, go and see, but better, HEAR the love and respect and talent that will be on stage honoring a great man, a great teacher and a great conductor, Mr. Robert Fuller.

Bill Hoff from Raleigh, NC  

Posted: September 7th, 2012 9:14 AM

I was extremely lucky to have sung for Mr. Fuller for over 4 years in and out of hs. 2 years in the Choral, 2 years in A Cappella, 1 year the Madrigal Singers, 1 year in barbershop and 1 year in the Heritage Choral. I took all that I learned during those years and carried it with me to ILLVMGC (Illinois Varsity Men's Glee Club) were I was equally as fortunate to have 4.5 years under Dean Olson.

Justin Koehler from Oak Brook  

Posted: September 6th, 2012 11:00 PM

Wonderfully written article about such a genuine and authentic man. The word "humility" struck me as I thought about my senior year in A Cappella Choir 25 years ago after having had Mr. Fuller as the only constant teacher all four years at OPRFHS. It was never about him. It was always about us, the music and how he could mold us, shape us, and without us knowing, be that teacher, model, and mentor who made us better people with stronger character for knowing him.

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