From England to Batavia, the late musical director brought standards and a passion for music
The way Jim Owen tells the story, his father Frank had very high musical standards, and not all of the Owens in the family made it.
“My sister Kathy was a very good singer, and my brother Robert was a very good singer, and then there’s Jim,” the honorary mayor of Redfield Parkway said, adding that his dad wasn’t mean about it. “He gave me a lot of encouragement, he knew I loved sports…cross country, basketball and golf.”
Jim just saw a dream come true with the dedication of his father’s name for the auditorium at Batavia High School. Frank E. Owen was a highly educated man, and would be “humbled but very grateful” to have his contribution to the music program recognized, Jim said.
After a 37-year career as Music Director at BHS, the eldest Owen joined the Board of Education, eventually achieving the rank of Chairman. These “very high standards” came into play when Jim announced his intention to apply for a teaching position in the city school district.
“He said ‘no way.’ He was very ethical and didn’t think I should work in the district,” Jim said.
Jim therefore worked as a teacher at Sacketts Harbor and later at Hamburg Central School, where he enjoyed his work and cross-country training for 35 years. He retired from Hamburg Central in 2003, then – eventually – got a job as a substitute teacher in schools in the city of Batavia, his original choice.
Frank started a school band in 1930 and raised money to buy new uniforms and instruments. He went on to found the Community Orchestra in 1947 and was inducted into the Music of Note Hall of Fame. He would also “go the extra mile to get students into college,” Jim said, “using his great influence.”
It would seem that Jim was destined to be an intelligent teacher, given the background of his father and mother, Natalie Walker Owen, who spoke Latin, French and Spanish and served on the library board. Jim has been involved in education for 55+ years, he said, and showed the same appreciation for his students and colleagues as his father.
He chuckled a little as he remembered his sister Kathy (who died in 2019) was having fun in class one day and dad kicked her out. Those standards came into play again and “he had no favorites”.
“In that sense, he wanted you to be focused. He was selective and wanted good quality,” Jim said. “One of his big contributions was that he was very, very proud of his backing vocalists. They sang on WBTA and on Jay Gordon Bridge’s armed forces show. Some former students in Korea might listen to him.
Even though Frank was discussed in preparation and during the signing event, there are some tidbits that weren’t listed. He was a violinist, grew up in England and would help children of all nationalities, Jim said. He was very good at spelling and articulation and even helped local announcer Chuck Platt practice before moving to the WBTA.
“Dad would teach him to sing for the shows,” Jim said.
Frank worked in Williamsport, Penn. before applying for a job at Batavia. The rest, as said, is history insofar as he reformed the music department. He always preferred to use his middle initial in his name (E is for Earl, by the way), even though he was sometimes mistakenly called Frankie.
Jane Haggett, current director of the high school orchestra and chair of the music department, heard all about Jim’s elder Owen, who did a lot of substitute teaching in the district. Naming the auditorium after Frank means something significant to the neighborhood as a whole, she said.
“I think it really reinforces Batavia’s desire to have a solid musical education for their students. I also think it’s in relation to the theater and our musical productions that everything correlates with each other,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a music production club and produce our musicals without our choral program and our instrumental program and so on. It just wouldn’t happen. Or not so well, I should say. But I have to say it gives music students a voice.
Haggett knows what it’s like to have music at heart; she knew early on what her career would be like, she said.
“I started playing the piano at five and the flute when I was in fifth grade, and by the time I was in sixth grade I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to get into music. I knew I wanted to teach. I didn’t know what level or for high school or elementary teacher, or just a private student, but I know I wanted to do something in music, “she said. said: “I felt like I had succeeded. And that made me happy. That’s why I sued him.
Likewise, as a young violinist, Frank Owen seemed to know his direction in life. While in the city’s school district, he taught people like Councilwoman Patti Pacino and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley. Jim thanks Pacino for putting so much time and effort into the dedication, inviting other alumni, and putting together notes on the late musical director. Learning music with Frank E. Owen wasn’t just an ordinary education, Pacino said, “it was magical.”
Jim’s parents “all the fine qualities that the citizens of Batavia represent”, and Frank particularly added drive, enthusiasm and talent to the musical education, Jim said. His father even recruited a special guest to visit the neighborhood: John Philip Sousa.
Sousa, a patriotic composer who died in 1932, was the 17th manager of The President’s Own group from 1880 to 1892. The group’s most famous manager, he wrote the national march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and the official march of the Marine Corps, “Semper Fidelis.” Jim has an autobiography written by Sousa, “Marching Along”, with Sousa’s signature, made to Frank E. Owen in 1929.
Not too shabby Frank E. Owen.
See the related story of dedication HERE.