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Local musician set to enter hall of fame

Music is a passion and natural talent for Mitchell resident Joe Pekas. A composer, performer and teacher in the industry, Pekas will be honored for his dedication and impact in music at the South Dakota Music Hall of Fame induction Thursday in Ab...

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Joe Pekas, Mitchell, will be inducted into the South Dakota Music Hall of Fame Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Joe Pekas)

Music is a passion and natural talent for Mitchell resident Joe Pekas.

A composer, performer and teacher in the industry, Pekas will be honored for his dedication and impact in music at the South Dakota Music Hall of Fame induction Thursday in Aberdeen.

"It's a pretty humbling experience, really," Pekas said of his nomination. "It's just fun to be involved in all the musical things I've had the chance to do."

Friend and fellow musician Chuck Balcom, of Mitchell, nominated Pekas. Balcom has performed with Pekas in the Mitchell Municipal Band and other groups since they both moved to Mitchell in the 1960s.

"Joe is a marvelous conductor as far as working with the Mitchell Municipal Band. He's a whale of a nice guy to start with, but he's very talented in so many areas," Balcom said.

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Pekas has been the Mitchell Municipal Band director since 1966. He was a music educator at Mitchell High School for more than 30 years and performed with the South Dakota National Guard Band for 43 years.

He's accomplished much over the years as a performer and teacher. He composes and arranges music, and much of his music has been published and made available to bands and choirs around the world. He plays almost all instruments, but most notably the guitar, trumpet and piano. And he often visits nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to entertain the residents.

Balcom said Pekas' best talent is his ability to instill the same passion for music in others that he has developed over the years.

"He has had a lifetime career of entertaining and bringing music to people," Balcom said. "He's done wonders with Mitchell in developing really nice programming."

Balcom has played in the Municipal Band under the direction of Pekas for 40 years. Pekas also performs in a quartet with Balcom and fellow South Dakota musicians Mike Sejnoha, of Mitchell, and Sid Phelps, of Spearfish. The group travels to communities and performs at dances or puts on concerts in community halls.

The love for creating and performing music began early in Pekas. As a child, Pekas would listen to his mother play piano. He followed in her footsteps and took piano, along with trumpet lessons.

Once in high school, he and several of his friends formed a combo and played at school dances. The group continued to play throughout college, too.

"That definitely was a big financial help in college to be able to play nearly every Friday and Saturday night," Pekas said.

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He received his master's degree in music at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, and after teaching for two years in the Tripp School District, he moved to Mitchell.

"It's being able to work with the kids and seeing them get enthused about something they are doing," Pekas said of why he enjoyed teaching. "It makes them feel good about themselves and gives them self-confidence. That carries over into all other things they do in school."

Although retired from the classroom, Pekas is still teaching and sharing his musical abilities with others.

Balcom said he has picked up much from playing with Pekas over the years.

"It's an endless string of items. Working with anyone who is talented, you pick up pointers and things that have enhanced your professional music abilities. There's no end to it," he said.

And there really is no end, at least where Pekas is concerned. As long as there's a need for music and people who want him to perform, he will keep at it.

"I'll keep doing it as long as I'm able to," he said.

Related Topics: MUSIC
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