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After fourteen years as Band Director in Chrisman, Jeff Nelson is hanging up his hat. “Being the Band Director at Chrisman has been one of the greatest blessings in my life,” Nelson told us. “It has brought me profound professional and personal satisfaction all awhile allowing me to be there for my family.”
Nelson began teaching music in his senior year of high school. “My life at that time had revolved around basketball, however, I was also involved in band, choir, and musical theatre and was having a great deal of success with all my musical endeavors.”
One weekend while helping his mother with a solo and ensemble event, Jeff was assisting some of his mother’s younger musicians to prepare for their performances. “I enjoyed it so much it got me thinking about teaching.”
Around this time, he was given the opportunity to job shadow as part of a program that his High School offered. Jeff chose to shadow Mr. McCumber, the choir director at Richwoods High School in Peoria. As they talked, Nelson learned that McCumber was in his 30th year of teaching. “As an eighteen year old, doing one job for that many years didn’t seem possible,” Nelson said. “So I asked him how he could do the same job for that many years and not get bored of doing the same thing every day. He laughed and said in thirty years, I’ve never had the same day twice.”
McCumber went on to explain to Nelson that every day the kids come forward with something new. They are always growing and changing, so there’s no chance he could ever get bored.
“I was hooked,” Nelson said. “From that day forward, I was one hundred percent focused on graduating and going to college to become a music teacher.”
At that time, Jeff was interested in teaching both choir and band, but as he grew as a musician in college, he fell more and more in love with instrumental music and teaching band. By his senior year in college, band began to dominate his musical life. “I knew before I graduated that if given the choice I wanted to be a band director and I was blessed to do just that.”
After teaching in Monroe City, Missouri for three years and Hannibal, Missouri for five, an opening in Chrisman caught Nelson’s attention. This job would allow for more time with his family, something that was important to him. “Hannibal had me gone from home most weekends and a great deal of the summer as well because it as a large and competitive program,” Nelson said. “I knew from my first job in a smaller town, that a band director could have a great program, help lots of kids and still have time for family and I wanted that again and Chrisman looked like it could be just that.”
Chrisman had been without a band program for two years and needed rebuilt and Nelson knew exactly how to do that. “After interviewing with Norm Tracy and Terry Furnish and outlining my plan, the job was offered and I have been blessed to have spent the past fourteen years doing exactly what I had outlined in that interview with the help of an incredible community, Band Booster Organization and absolutely wonderful students.”
In those fourteen years, Nelson says that he has met some of his best friends while at Chrisman and was blessed to work with them every year. “As director here, I have been blessed to see fourteen years worth of young people experience the joy that music brings to them and to those around them,” Jeff said. “I was especially blessed to see fifth graders grow into adults who are now contributing to their communities, starting families, beginning careers and making lives for themselves. I could not have asked for a better school, community, group of kids and colleagues with which to work.”
In his time as Band Director, Nelson has achieved many professional goals. One of those goals was being a professional development presenter at the Local, State, and National level. “I have been invited to guest conduct an honor band. I was a guest performer playing solo trombone with the Paris High School Jazz Ensemble for their ILMEA All-State performance,” Nelson said.
Nelson also received the honor of winning both the Chrisman Golden Apple Award and the WTHI Golden Apple Award, which led to him serving as a judge for that award for WTHI for nine years. He has also served as the ILMEA District 5 Professional Development Chairperson.
“I have been able to bring small ensembles to perform in and around our community and was able to take performance trips with our band students to Chicago, Indianapolis, New York, Nashville, New Orleans, Minneapolis and Denver,” Nelson said. “We were blessed to regrow the band program from just thirty-two students after my first day of registration in 2008 to this year having a total of ninety-three students in the band program from fifth grade to twelfth.”
In that time, Nelson has had many students make All-District and All-State Band and has hosted as well as attended numerous solo and ensemble events. “One of the things I am most proud of was working alongside our amazing Band Booster Organization and it’s dedicated and selfless parents for each of the past fourteen years,” Jeff said. “I am so very proud that the Band Boosters never once had to turn away any student who wanted to take band, but couldn’t afford an instrument.”
“As if that weren’t enough, they have been the driving force behind affording our kids the opportunity to travel all those place and have all those once in a lifetime experiences,” Nelson said. “They have done more for our kids than could be written in an article and I’d like to publicly thank our past Presidents, Jeff Voigt, Angie Hoult and Dave Franz for their dedication and leadership.”
Nelson also wants to thank the man who previously served as the band director before him.
“I must also thank Mr. George Fischer who was band director in Chrisman for twenty plus years and who paved a path for success by leaving a legacy of love of music that served far beyond his years of service,” Jeff said. “I can never repay him or thank him enough for all that he has done for Chrisman. I am truly blessed to know him and to have tried to follow in his footsteps.”
In addition to being Band Director, Mr. Nelson also took on the role of being Dean of Students as a matter of meeting a disciplinary need for the school as well as meeting a financial necessity for his family. “In my teaching career, classroom discipline has always been a strong point, so when there was presented a need for assistance with discipline in our school, I knew I could help,” Jeff said. “I created a version of my own classroom discipline system which is a combination of assertive discipline and restorative justice where students were to primarily be responsible for their behavior.”
Students were given a means of knowing where they stood in terms of handling that responsibility via the schools ‘Assertive Discipline Points’ and the opportunity to make things right if a behavioral mistake was made. “I hope that my time as Dean helped students to better understand their responsibility for being in charge of their own behavior and decisions and that I was also able to help my fellow teachers and administrative team,” Nelson told us. “I can say without reservation that as Dean, I did more and harder work that I have ever done in my entire career. I can only hope that it was a help to some and I am grateful to the principal, superintendent and the school board for the opportunity to serve as Dean of Students.”
As a surprise to the Chrisman Students and community, Jeff Nelson handed in his resignation and it was accepted at the June school board meeting. “My decision to leave teaching is twofold. First and foremost, I have been unable to afford healthcare for my wife and I for sometime now. The district does a great job in helping it’s employees afford healthcare, however given our very personal choice to be a one income family, even with the assistance the district provides, it was still not enough to allow us to afford healthcare,” Nelson said. “Given the ever increasing cost of living and our advancing age, I was left with no other choice than to see what I could do to better provide for my family.”
The second contributing factor is that in his non-school time, Nelson has built a successful side business in firearms training and competitive shooting. “In the evenings, weekends and summer time, I have built a growing connection to the firearms industry and have had opportunities present themselves some of which have the potential to allow us to continue as a one income family and allow me to provide all that my family needs.”
One such opportunity presented itself recently that left Nelson with a difficult decision: stay with the career that he loved so much and with the students and colleagues for whom he cares so deeply for and just tough out the lack of insurance and financial strain or change careers to a field he also loves that will allow him to provide for all his family needs.
“For the good of my family, the decision was clear,” Nelson said. “My new position is as an Account Executive for Delta Defense LLC for the Central Illinois area. Delta Defense LLC is a service provider for the USCCA (United States Concealed Carry Association). This new position will allow us to stay in Chrisman and continue being a part of the community we have come to love over these past fourteen years.”
With his new venture, Nelson says that he will miss the students the most. Getting to work with the students and their families for up to eight years is extremely unique and have blessed Nelson with the opportunity to make countless lifelong friendships and have new experiences each and every day. “While many of those friendships will continue for the rest of my life, I will miss all those new friendships that might have come about. After twenty-two years in teaching, it was exactly like Mr. McCumber told me it would be. I never had the same day twice,” Nelson said. “Each day was a new adventure made that way by my beloved students. For that, I will be eternally grateful. Thank you students, with all my heart. Thank you. I will miss you all.”