Huffer honored for 50-year career

Jan. 25—Muskogee music teacher Jerry Huffer recalls becoming Oklahoma Music Educators Association executive director under abrupt circumstances in 1973.

The associations director, Carl Rogers, died at a concert — while playing "Come, Sweet Death," Huffer said, recalling that Huffer called the OkMEA president.

"I told him I would help him out that first year or so — and here I am 50 years later," Huffer said. "I fell in love with the association, and the kids became my life."

Huffer is retiring from OkMEA and was honored during the association's winter conference in Tulsa last weekend.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that without Jerry, we would not have OkMEA," said OkMEA President Leah McDonald. "Along with his family, Jerry masterfully steered our organization for decades."

The association's luncheon in Huffer's honor featured a surprise visit by the Muskogee Brass, which plays the "Hallelujah" chorus at churches each Christmas.

"We had played that at churches for 37 years," Huffer said. "But what had never happened before, we forgot there were 137 music teachers at the banquet, and they all started singing the 'Hallelujah' chorus. That was also really special."

Huffer said two songs at the conference were commissioned and performed in honor of his retirement. An honor children's choir sang Matt Podd's "In the Valley," and the All-State Symphonic Band played another commissioned number, "Vignette de la Vie," by Ed Huckeby, he said.

"I was kind of overwhelmed, to be honest," Huffer said. "They were very kind to recognize my retirement."

Huffer was a music director at Muskogee Public Schools for nearly 20 years before retiring in 1987. In 2012, he worked with MPS to help rebuild the music program, then became MPS director of fine arts before retiring in 2022. He also established the Muskogee Community Band and has directed it for many years.

OkMEA covers the gamut in music and music education.

The association puts on clinics for musicians from kindergarten through college, as well as teacher seminars and workshops. The association also honors outstanding musicians in All-State groups.

"We have about 5,000 that audition across the state," he said. "We have two bands, two choruses one orchestra, one jazz ensemble, one children's choir, an intercollegiate band and an intercollegiate choir."

McDonald said that "at each turn, Jerry Huffer has negotiated superb contracts with conductors, venues, vendors, and exhibitors."

She detailed such tasks as ordering plaques and other material, organizing registration, supervising state crews.

"Countless Oklahoma music teachers have come to know Jerry as the face of OkMEA for decades, and he is passionate about furthering our profession for years to come. His commitment and service to our MEA is truly remarkable."

OKMEA also promotes legislation to help protect music teachers and arts education, Huffer said. "Arts are sometimes the first things to be cut at schools."