One of the longest serving members of Largo High School's Band of Gold is retiring. After more than four decades of volunteering as a roadie, Gatorade guy, unofficial counselor, mentor, stand-in parent, concessionaire and all-round helper, Howard Taylor, 88, is stepping down. He says he'll keep coming to the Packer football games, but now he'll be able to cheer without being distracted by other duties. Chances are, he will miss the band members and they him. Story and photos, Pages 8-10
He's outlasted six band directors and four principals and attended 316 high school football games. Now, after more than 40 years of volunteering with Largo High School's Band of Gold (BOG), Howard Taylor is retiring.
"I'm 88 years old," Taylor said. "I have been faithful to the Band of Gold for 40 years, and it is time to pack it in."
From working the concessions stand to loading band equipment, Taylor has always been ready to lend a hand. For the last several decades he's been known as "the Gatorade man."
Taylor mixed powdered Gatorade and handed out water to countless students while learning each name and offering a listening ear.
"I encouraged kids to keep playing, to stay with the band. Every time I saw somebody sitting by themselves I sicced someone of the opposite sex on them to get them involved," Taylor said. "Several times when a student won an award for the most improved band member they came to me and said, 'You made me do this.' I was always so proud of them."
Over the years Taylor has been honored with awards, plaques and gifts: a blanket embroidered with student names, a crocheted afghan in BOG colors, engraved clocks and picture frames, giant cards and scribbled notes. With each memento comes a story about the student it represents.
One of the honors he treasures most was bestowed on him by students in 1993.
"There used to be an initiation at band camp," Taylor said. "Kids would put together anything that was edible and mix it with flour, water, shaving cream, all kinds of stuff. It was at least a gallon of slop. Someone climbed up and poured it over your head. I'm the only 'civilian' who was ever initiated. I felt honored."
His connection with students was always very personal. Taylor still wears a 'Life is a team sport' bracelet for Cassie Snow, a band member who died of leukemia in 2004.
"I used to go down to Bayfront (Medical Center) every day to let her mother go to lunch," Taylor said.
"Kids felt comfortable with Howard," said Joe Donahey, a retired judge and longtime volunteer with the BOG. "They talked to him, and in his own quiet and unassuming way he helped them deal with their feelings and move beyond the problem."
Taylor was available to kids in need. "At least five times I have walked with a student at the Senior-Parent Night as their substitute parent. They would come up to me and ask me if I would walk with them. Moments like those are why I stayed with the band," Taylor said.
Susan, one of Taylor's four children, was a BOG member from 1972-1975. When asked when he has been most proud of the band, Taylor said it was watching Susan perform a flute solo.
Taylor has seen three generations of band students. When people ask him which band was best, he has an answer prepared.
"I always answer 'which one of your kids do you like best?' " Taylor said.
Debbie Wotring Fontaine, Class of 1981, said adulthood has given her greater perspective on Taylor. "As an adult I now fully appreciate the huge sacrifice and contribution he made when he could have been doing a lot of other things," she said.
As Taylor retires from volunteer responsibilities, he plans to continue sharing his love for the Band of Gold.
"If I can," he said, "I'll still go to the games and be the cheerleader."