As Andrew Krupski cleaned out the band closet at Buchanan Middle School one day, he came across pictures in broken frames stuffed in the back of an instrument cabinet. It was March 2007, and Krupski had just taken over the school's band program. He noticed that the same man appeared in many of the decades of pictures. But who was he? Intrigued, Krupski did some digging. As it turned out, the face in the photographs had led Buchanan's band program for 20 years. A black man, he joined the school after segregation in Hillsborough County ended. With a deep and far-reaching impact, he touched the lives of many students.
Something needed to be done, Krupski decided. This man had to be honored in a way more deserving than old pictures lost in a cabinet.
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Otis F. Padgett, the youngest of 10 children, was born in Tampa in 1934. He graduated from Middleton High School in 1953 and went on to get his bachelor's and master's degrees in music education from Allen University and North Carolina Central University.
Padgett served as the band director at various high schools in North and South Carolina before returning to Tampa in 1964 to lead the all-black Marshall High School band in Plant City.
In 1971, after integration, Padgett became band director at Buchanan, where he stayed until he retired in 1990.
During his time at Buchanan, Padgett's bands consistently earned superior and excellent ratings at competitions, and he started one of the first jazz bands at the middle school level. He served as chairman of the Hillsborough County Music Council, chairman of the Florida Music Education Association's black caucus and a judge for the Florida Band Masters Association for many years.
When he passed away in July 2004, former students drove from as far as Michigan to attend his funeral and pay respects to the man who changed their lives through music.
He was posthumously inducted into the Hillsborough County Band Directors Hall of Fame in 2007.
"I was like, 'Oh, wow,' " Krupski said upon learning of Padgett's dedication and accomplishments. "I had to think of a nice way to honor his memory."
Last year, with assistance from the Buchanan band booster club and its fundraisers, Krupski established a $400 scholarship in Padgett's name. The money pays for one rising eighth-grader at Buchanan to attend band camp at Florida State University for one week over the summer.
The goal is to have the students return to school and share their passion and lessons with other band members.
Applicants submitted an essay detailing why they wanted the scholarship, sat through an interview with a panel of judges and provided a portfolio.
"We decided on a student who best characterized the spirit of what we were looking for, which was someone selfless, who would take what they learned and bring it back to help our band program," Krupski said.
Krupski chose the inaugural winner with help from Dana Burt, a band director in Hillsborough County for 30 years who considered Padgett a mentor.
After attending the FSU band camp, trumpet player Vincent Saladino came back fired up and full of ideas, his father, Steve, said.
In his first experience away from home, Vincent made friends quickly and gained a higher level of music instruction.
"I've seen him use what he's learned to help others," his father said. "Mr. Padgett would be very proud of that."
Burt met Padgett in 1979 at a Florida Band Masters Association meeting. She said Padgett was cheerful and supportive of both students and peers. He was respected by high school band directors because he produced many talented students at the middle school level who went on to success in high school and beyond.
"We have incredible band programs here in Hillsborough County, and they're not dying," Burt said. "They're alive and well because of people like Mr. Padgett. He was a big part of breaking down racial barriers at the time and was so supportive."
Krupski says he wants to help band boosters ensure that the scholarship continues, even though he just became the band director at Armwood High School. Steven Lutz, also a trumpet player, won the Padgett scholarship this year.
Padgett's widow, Mary Padgett, said her husband of 46 years was passionate about his job and would be honored to know that his legacy lives on.
"The one thing he wanted to do was help children attain their musical goals, and he was successful at doing that," Mrs. Padgett said. "His principal knew, the band parents knew, his students knew. I'm elated that other people will now know."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.