MASON CITY | For nearly four decades, the North Iowa Band Festival parade has been an integral part of a Mason City man’s educational and professional career.
Mike McEniry, a 1974 graduate of Mason City High School, has spent 37½ years as an educator in Mason City, Iowa Falls and Osage.
He will retire at the end of this academic year after 32 years with Mason City Schools.
McEniry was initially laid off when the district closed one of its schools.
“When they closed Monroe Middle School, they let me go since I had low seniority,” he said. “I taught for two years in Osage, then my job came back open that I never wanted to leave anyways.
“I had recall rights, and have been here ever since,” said McEniry, who is associate director of Mason City High School’s bands.
McEniry initially thought he’d be a marine biologist.
“I always enjoyed aquatics — I had 10 aquariums in my parents’ basement where I bred fish and was a scuba diver in high school,” he said in his office Tuesday, where glass fish decorated his desk. “But I had a great experience in high school band that really turned me on to music.”
He credits former Mason City band director Robert Dean, who died in 1994, and the University of Northern Iowa’s Jon Hansen in steering him towards teaching. McEniry also said he “learned tons about being a band director” from Gil Lettow, a former Mason City band director who died from cancer in 2007.
His music lessons began with piano as a first-grader in Michigan.
McEniry's mother used to sit with him to make sure he practiced. Like most that age, McEniry said he was not a “model practicer.”
“In first, second grade, I would much rather have been playing ball or kick the can with kids in the street, but I did that after piano,” he said.
His piano training later assisted him with band in sixth grade, when McEniry was set on playing trumpet or cornet, like the one his father owned.
He had been earnestly practicing a C scale, but when it was time to play it on a trumpet for the band director at school, he couldn’t get the instrument to work. When he switched to the trombone, McEniry said the “sound came right out.”
McEniry felt defeated when the band director announced he would play the trombone.
“At the time, I was really disappointed because I wanted to show how well I could play a C scale on the trumpet, but it all worked out great,” he said. “I moved to Mason City (in 1968) — Meredith Willson’s ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’ — and fit in.
“I’ve enjoyed being a trombone player since then. I have no regrets on the trombone,” he said.
To honor the 50th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of “The Music Man," McEniry and band director Russ Kramer organized a trombone and trumpet/cornet group to lead the Band Festival parade in 2008. It included Mason City High School, Newman Catholic and Alumni Band members.
“It was a rather large band, with minimal rehearsal and practice, but that was very memorable,” McEniry said.
Next year, McEniry will be seeing Band Festival and concerts from a different perspective.
In his retirement he plans to teach private lessons, play in Mason City’s Municipal Band and several other groups, assist with music at First Covenant Church, possibly volunteer and fill in at the school, when needed.
“I want to see the music department succeed at Mason City High School,” McEniry said.
He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Pam.
“This job has a lot of nights and weekends with concerts, pep band and rehearsals,” McEniry said. “She has always been supportive of me and allowed me to have a busy schedule.”
But he says the thought of retirement still has him “running hot and cold.”
“I have days I think, ‘Do I really want to retire; am I doing the right thing?’” McEniry said. “I don’t know when it’ll hit me… maybe when marching band season starts in August, it might hit me then.”