If you took a band class in the Mitchell School District between 1962 and 1999, then you know who he is.
Joe Pekas has spent nearly 60 years playing, teaching and directing music in the Mitchell area, and Wednesday marks the end of his 55-year span as director of the Mitchell Municipal Band.
Pekas’ involvement in the municipal band stemmed from encouragement by Harold Grant, who conducted the South Dakota National Guard band that Pekas played in for 43 years.
He began teaching music in the Mitchell School District in 1962, and began serving as the municipal band’s director in 1966. When he retired from the school system in 1999, he wasn’t ready to give up his community involvement entirely.
"Once you're a musician, it's pretty hard to get it out of your system," Pekas told the Mitchell Republic in 2016. "I will probably keep doing this until I can't do it anymore."
Pekas, now 81 years old, said his age plays some role in his decision to retire from the band.
“There’s a lot of steps in City Hall going up to the third floor,” Pekas said Monday through a laugh. “I’m still making it up there pretty good yet, but I’d hate to have something happen.”
Pekas enjoyed attending musical workshops all across the country, but never chose to leave Mitchell, saying his admiration for the members of the band kept him here.
“You learn a lot by going to these different kinds of places, but Mitchell always seemed like a nice place to be,” Pekas said. “There are just many very, very good musicians that I learned a lot from here. Every person in the band is important to me.”
The band is composed of musicians of various levels, and Pekas believes the band will be in good hands after his departure.
“There’s some other band directors in our city band and I think some of them are interested in becoming either a part-time director or a full-time conductor,” Pekas said. “Just being around some of these people... there are very, very fine musicians here in Mitchell.”
Pekas shared his gratitude with how well the band has performed during his time and how the community has worked with the band to solve problems, such as locating alternative venues during extreme heat.
The band has been allowed to practice and perform across the Mitchell during inclement weather, including area nursing homes (before the pandemic), Mitchell High School’s Performing Arts Center and the National Guard Armory.
Since Pekas announced his plans to retire, he said the band has worked to form a board of directors to address the group’s future.
“I think there’s several of them that are just really gung-ho about keeping (the band) going,” Pekas said, “and I’m just in hope that their plan is to keep it going and invite more people to play.”
Wednesday’s municipal band performance, the last of the 2021 season, will honor Pekas and his five and a half decades of contributions to the program.
The summer performances are usually at Hitchcock Park but Wednesday's season finale has been moved to the James Valley Community Center due to the forecasted heat. The JVCC has air conditioning and ample parking. Doors will open at 7 p.m. with the program beginning at 7:30 p.m.