Bob Bitter is well known in high school band circles. He taught at Pratt High School for nine years and is responsible for the marching band’s “Pride of South Central Kansas” moniker. For the past six years he’s held the baton at Skyline School, bringing a flagging program back to excellence. In between, he owned a business, visited 42 schools every week, selling and servicing school instruments, taught part-time at Sacred Heart Elementary School and tutored private students from his home.
He also served eight years on the USD 382 Board of Education, which helped him see the “big picture” of a school. Running a Main Street business at the time, he said that if people had concerns, they just stopped in to tell him about them.
It is fitting that for his final performances, he will direct the Skyline band in “Pomp and Circumstance” at high school graduation on May13 and eighth grade commencement the 15th. He will lay down the baton on a 42-year career, but not bow out entirely. He plans to broaden his schedule as a contest and festival judge, and also consider some part time work in the music field.
Bitter began his teaching career in Syracuse, where he taught from 1969 through the spring of 1972. That fall he moved to Pratt, where he found a lot of talent in the high school band, but not a lot of student motivation to work hard. At the first home football game, he handed announcer Dick McCall a script for the band’s halftime show that referred to them as the Pride of South Central Kansas.
“It was a couple of years before we were good enough to earn that title, but it stuck,” Bitter said. “It became part of the motivation for the kids in the early ’70s and it still holds true today.”
He left teaching in favor of private business in the fall of 1981, as his and wife Luana’s children were becoming active in school events.
“If I kept teaching, I knew I would not be at all events,” he said. “Running a business, I would have a chance.”
He opened B & L Music at 111 S. Main, now part of the Skaggs building, as a full-line music store, selling pianos, instruments and sheet music, as well as doing repair work. He sold the store to Senseney Music of Wichita in 1997 and became the western division school service manager, through the spring of 2006.
In that spring, as he was contemplating returning to public school music, he received a letter from a former student at Pratt, telling him what a difference he had made in her life, teaching her to pursue excellence.
That, plus having had the opportunity with Senseney to “watch some really fine teachers teach,” factored into a decision that was made partly from a sense of stewardship, and partly as a function of his age and driving 1,500 miles each week.
Page 2 of 2 - “I really did have a talent to teach, and I missed that,” he commented. “And at my age, if I was going to do it (return to teaching) I needed to do it while I still had the energy.”
Bitter says his greatest accomplishment as a music teacher is leaving students with a good work ethic and a sense of self-discipline.
Special memories include trips with the Pratt High band to the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C., and a Fiesta Bowl parade in Arizona. In six years, he has taken four trips with the Skyline band, twice to Kansas City, once to a marching contest in Canon City, Colo., and this spring to the grand opening of the Dick Clark Theater in Branson, Mo. He has also taken the band seniors on a ski trip every year, which gives him an opportunity to know them outside a classroom setting.
One of the things he will remember most is taking the Skyline band to play at Greensburg High’s graduation just a week after the tornado destroyed their school and their town.
“That was a pretty sobering experience for a bunch of high school kids,” he recalled.
After retirement, he will focus more of his energies on another group of kids.
“I would like to be grandpa,” he commented, explaining that their two daughters have each have two children, age 1 to 6.
The family skis together, and one of his goals is to make sure all the grandchildren learn to ski. Both the six-year-olds are already good skiers, he said.
He and Lu also plan to travel, and this fall will mark his 40th as the director of the Chancel Choir at First United Methodist Church.
Bitter praised the Skyline Board of Education for its commitment to keeping the music program strong. Bob Lee, currently assistant band director and technology teacher for USD 382, has been hired to replace him. Lee’s wife Kim teaches at Skyline, his daughter is a Skyline graduate and his son is a student at the school.