Mitchell's city band director celebrates 50 years in post

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — With swift, practiced movements of his hands and arms, directing has become second nature for Joe Pekas.

The 76-year-old retired musician was completing his 50th year as the Mitchell City Band director on Wednesday — and he has no plans of quitting anytime soon.

"Once you're a musician, it's pretty hard to get it out of your system," Pekas said. " ... I will probably keep doing this until I can't do it anymore."

Being the Mitchell City Band director is just one of many roles Pekas has held over the years. His position as director is a paid position. This year he received $2,400, but Pekas is not in it for the money.

The longtime Mitchell resident is originally from Lesterville, a South Dakota town about 20 miles northwest of Yankton.

After graduating from high school, Pekas went on to receive a teaching degree in music from Southern State Teachers College in Springfield. After graduation, Pekas took his first teaching job in 1960 with the Tripp School District.

He was in Tripp for two years teaching band before moving in 1962 to Mitchell, where he taught instrumental music. He eventually became the high school band director. He retired in 1999, after 37 years with the Mitchell School District.

In addition to his longtime teaching career, Pekas also served in the South Dakota National Guard 147th Army Band for 43 years. Pekas said he held "almost all of the ranks you could have in the band," before he eventually became the commander of the army band.

But his longest-held position is his role as the city band director, which he started in 1966.

"What really sticks out I think through all of those 50 years, is I just had excellent bands here," Pekas told The Daily Republic newspaper ( "Teamwork is a big deal with them and they place it high on their priorities of what they want to do. And that's just always sort of been the case. Through the years, we've had some very outstanding musicians."

Pekas said he does about everything from personnel to programming to advertising. And if there's any music that needs to be revamped, he does that, too.

"It's a big job, but I make it probably a little bigger than it needs to be, but I want everything to be successful," Pekas said.

In 2011, Pekas was inducted into the Dakota Musician's Association Hall of Fame in Aberdeen for his accomplishments as a musician.

"That felt really good," he said.

Directing is not Pekas' only talent. He writes a lot of music, and according to Pekas, he has about four filing cabinets full of his own compositions.

Pekas also knows how to play several different instruments, but he said his two major instruments are the piano and the trumpet.

Because of his commitment to the band, Pekas said, sometimes his kids will ask him why he continues to be the director. But he doesn't see it as a burden.

"Everything about it is great, really. It's a lot of work, I'll put it that way. But because of (the band's) hard work, it winds up satisfying a lot of people and a lot of audiences," he said. "I enjoy that very much."

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