DONALD RAY BAIRD
Don Baird was born March 4, 1932 to Ray and Ruby Baird in Newkirk, Oklahoma. His father was a vocational agriculture teacher, and both parents were graduates of Oklahoma A & M (now OSU) in Stillwater Oklahoma. Don's mother was a certified teacher, but chose not to teach until after her husband's death in 1958. Ray Baird was as highly thought of in the field of agriculture, as Don Baird was later to be in the field of music.
Don began playing the cornet in the 5th grade. He worked hard, but did not have much success until his band director, Wayne Hartman, changed him to baritone. He took to it like a duck to water!
Don was very interested in both agriculture and music, and continued that interest through his high school years. He raised Grand Champion steers, lambs, and swine, while serving as the student conductor his senior year of band, and receiving the John Phillip Sousa award. He also wanted to play in the orchestra, so he taught himself trombone. Although Don had no private lessons until he entered college, he did perform a Class I solo at the Tri-State Music Festival in Enid, Oklahoma, getting a Division One rating. His judge was the renowned march composer Karl King, and his family still has the criticism sheet that stated: "Rather a satisfactory performance. Not much criticism. Still room for some development of tonal quality. Tone is everything for baritone, so work on that."
Don went to Phillips University in Enid on a full tuition scholarship, and was selected to solo with the band on their spring tour his freshman year. He played the famous cornet solo, "Napoli" by Herman Bellstedt, with the band. It became his signature piece throughout his life, being frequently requested when he was asked to guest solo with area bands.
As a college student, he worked for his living expenses holding down four jobs: director of the Junior Legionette Drum and Bugle Corps; teaching private lessons; grading papers for the theory teacher, and doing janitorial work around the band hall and practice rooms. Don and a friend also had a special trombone duet act they performed at banquets and special events. They would face each other and play duets while moving the other person's slide, and then they would ask someone to stand between them and hold their slides while they moved their bodies back and forth to perform the music.
Don also served as Band President for two years, and was the right-hand man for Dr. Milburn Carey, Chairman of the Music Department at Phillips, and head of the Tri-State Music Festival. Don spent many long hours preparing for and helping run this festival. Don also found the bassoon to be a "natural" for him when he took up the instrument in woodwind class his junior year. He became so proficient that he included the Mozart Bassoon Concerto on his senior recital.
Don married Nadina Loucks, his childhood sweetheart, August 29, 1953. After graduation from Phillips University in 1954, he auditioned for and was accepted in the U. S. Army Band in Washington, DC, as euphonium soloist. A daughter, Leslie, was born on June 23, 1956 and Nadina wanted Don to make the Army a career, but Don could hardly wait to be a teacher. After his two-year enlistment concluded, he took his wife and family to Urbana, Illinois, and was able to finish a Master of Music Education degree in only nine months so he could hurry and be a teacher.
His first teaching position was in Caldwell, Kansas, but when an offer came at mid-term to be the assistant band director at Odessa High School under Robert L. Maddox, he couldn't turn it down. Just three months after taking this new job, a son, Steve, was born on April 8, 1958.
Don stayed as assistant to Mr. Maddox for another year, then took his own band at Bowie Junior High in Odessa, where he was the director from 1959 until 1962. He had always wanted to teach at the college level, and in 1962 he took the position as band director at his alma mater, Phillips University. Finally an opportunity came from the university, which he had always wanted to teach, West Texas State University. As had become the habit for the Baird's, their third child, Janie, was born on July 2, 1965, just five weeks before their move to Canyon, Texas.
Don's position at WTSU was Assistant Director of Bands to Dr. Gary Garner and teacher of low brass. In 1972, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack and had subsequent heart surgery. By this time, the low brass studio had grown to such an extent that WTSU was able to change his job description to teaching only low brass. Don founded the Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble in 1970 and they toured every year for recruiting purposes and to perform at such events as the first annual TUBA convention held at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. The WT sports department loaned them a vehicle for the Indiana trip that would carry the dozen or so members of the ensemble. They could not afford motel accommodations, so they drove straight through and stayed in the university dormitory while in Indiana.
Don led a very active life until his sudden fatal heart attack on April 21, 1979. He loved his students, being intensely interested in them as both musicians and young adults. He never asked questions about their problems that happened in the middle of the night, he just helped. His legacy lives on, not only in his children and grandchildren, but in the lives of those he touched. Leslie, Steve and Jamie have followed very musical careers and his five grandchildren are also heavily involved in musical activities.