JOHN “PETE” KUNKEL
John Charles Kunkel was born on September 6, 1933, in Rusk County, Texas, near the community of Leverett’s Chapel. His parents were Arbert and Ganell Kunkel. Mr. Kunkel was a carpenter and came to the east Texas area looking for work in the oil field. The Kunkel family moved to White Oak and established their permanent residence.
John started school at White Oak in 1940 and graduated in 1951. His nickname in the community was “Sonny” until the band director, Mr. Roy Swicegood, stuck a piccolo in his hand in the sixth grade and said, “You are going to make a fine piccolo player, and from now on everyone will call you ‘Piccolo Pete’.”
Pete was in the All-State Band three years and was in the first All-State Band that played a concert at TMEA. Mr. Swicegood developed an outstanding band at White Oak and through his leadership, inspired Pete to major in music and become a band director. Mr. Swicegood was installed in the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame in 1992.
After graduation from White Oak, Pete accepted a music scholarship from Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches and enrolled in the fall of 1951. During the summer of 1952, he received a call from the band director at LSU. They told him they needed a good flute and piccolo player and would pay for everything including bus fare to Baton Rouge. After being at LSU for three days, Pete decided that this was not the place for an east Texas country boy, so he hitchhiked back to Nacogdoches and enrolled at SFA.
In the fall of 1953, Pete met Mozelle Hall who was a freshman Home Economics Major from Carthage. She also played flute and was a twirler in the SFA Band. They were married in August 1954. They have two daughters, Kathryn Kunkel, who lives in San Francisco, and Debbie Rodgers, who lives in Longview. Debbie is married to J. B. Rodgers, and they have three children, Justin, Megan and Jake. Mozelle taught Home Economics and elementary grades and retired after 30 years of teaching.
Pete received his Bachelor of Music degree from Stephen F. Austin in August of 1954 and the Master of Education degree in August of 1955. Pete started teaching in 1954 and retired in January of 1998 after teaching 43 1/2 years, all in Texas schools. Those schools are: Nacogdoches Junior High, 1954-55; Hemphill High School, 1955-56; Cleveland High School, 1956-66; Beaumont Forest Park, 1966-69; Longview High School, 1969-1986 and Panola College, 1986-1998.
Pete was band director at Longview High School and Supervisor of Music for the Longview Independent School District for seventeen years. Under his leadership the band earned seventeen consecutive UIL Sweepstakes awards. The Longview Band has always been a traditional 6 to 5 military marching band, and during his seventeen year tenure, the band became well known for its unique style of marching, drill design and playing of difficult marches. One writer in a magazine article stated it best when he wrote: “The Longview Lobo Band is the only band I have ever seen that can get a standing ovation for snapping to attention.” Although a lot of recognition of excellence came through the reputation of the marching performances, the band members took great pride to excel in individual accomplishments. For seventeen consecutive years, the band members earned 100 or more Class I medals at Solo and Ensemble Contest and each of these years was the leader in the region for the number of students earning chairs in the All-Region Band. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the Longview program was that in each of those seventeen years, the Band placed two or more members in the All-State Band, and one year, nine students earned All-State Band Honors.
In 1970, the Longview Band won the Outstanding Band trophy at the Virginia Beach Music Festival and returned the following year as the Honor Band. The Band won Superior awards in the Mexico City Band Festival twice; Six Flags over Georgia twice; and the Florida World Music Festival. The Cleveland Band, the Forest Park Band and the Longview Band all performed in the Cotton Bowl Classic pre-game show.
Pete has been very active in his career in band activities, serving both on the Region and State level as the UIL Executive Secretary for Region X: TMEA Band Chairman for Region IV and Region XXI; as well as serving on many state committees. He has judged the Texas UIL State Marching Contest, the NAMMB Marching Contest, and the Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana state concert contests.
In 1981, Pete was presented the Stephen F. Austin Kappa Kappa Psi Hall of Fame Award. He served on the Board of Texas Bandmasters Association and was President in 1982-83. In 1995, he was selected as Bandmaster of the Year by Texas Bandmasters Association. In 1997 he was elected by the Department of Music of Stephen F. Austin as the Outstanding Music Alumnus. Last spring, ex-Longview Band members, in cooperation with the Band Boosters Club, established the John “Pete” Kunkel Scholarship to be presented annually to a graduating senior who plans to major in music and become a band director.
Pete is a member of Phi Beta Mu and has served on the Membership Committee and on the Board. He is a member of TBA, TMEA and a life member of TSTA. There are some thirty students who were in his bands who chose to be band directors or to play professionally. Some have now entered the music business, and as Pete said: “It is great to see their success.”
Pete adds: “I want to thank Phi Beta Mu and the Hall of Fame for this great honor. I also would like to thank my wife, Mozelle, and my family for their support. This is a great way to end my teaching career.”