Jim and Tom Keefer: The More Different They Are The More They Are The Same

Keefer brothers Jim (left) and Tom (right) have been a part of the Fort Wayne Area Community Band’s tuba section since the Band’s inception 44 years ago. Following a recent Holiday concert in Auer Performance Hall on the local Purdue Fort Wayne campus, the tuba players are shown here with Principal Conductor Dr. Scott Humphries dressed as Santa Claus, a tradition he practices after every Holiday concert.

Article by Vince LaBarbera
Edited by Isaac Embree

       The Keefer brothers, Jim and Tom, have been a part of the Fort Wayne Area Community Band’s (FWACB) tuba section since the Band’s inception in November 1979. These two charter members have similar music beginnings and backgrounds, yet they differ in other ways, as well.

       Both brothers are Fort Wayne natives. Jim, being seven years older, attended St. Peter’s Catholic Elementary School and entered the former Central Catholic High School (CCHS), graduating in 1969. Tom also enrolled at St. Peter’s, but when the school was closed after Tom had completed fifth grade, he transferred to St. Patrick’s Catholic Elementary School. And by the time Tom was ready for high school, CCHS also had closed, so he attended Bishop Dwenger High School where he graduated in 1976.

       Both brothers began playing instruments other than the tuba. Jim played the violin from about the fourth or fifth grade, he said, through eighth grade. Tom started playing the trumpet in fourth grade. In their respective high-school bands, each switched to the Sousaphone at the request of Band Director Joseph Woods, who was short Sousaphone players at the high-school level. Jim, in fact, had begun playing violin in the high-school orchestra, but switched to band at the request of Mr. Woods.

       Incidentally, the tuba traditionally is a concert band or orchestra instrument, meant to be played while sitting on a chair with the bell facing upward, while the Sousaphone often is played while marching, with the bell facing forward. In fact, the Sousaphone is thought to have been invented by American Composer John Philip Sousa as a more practical marching-band instrument. The tuba is larger and cylindrical, while the Sousaphone is smaller and conical. The tuba produces a deeper and richer sound than the Sousaphone, which has a more focused sound.

       “I told (Mr. Woods) I didn’t know bass clef or anything about any horn,” Jim recalled. “Mr. Woods said not to worry, he’d give me private lessons! I never did get any lessons, just went to band camp… and learned to play Sousaphone and march on the fly! Never played violin again, and the rest is history…. One of the better decisions I ever made,” he added. “I had much more fun in the band than I ever would have had in the orchestra,” Jim concluded.

       Tom was in the Dwenger Marching, Concert, and Dance bands all four years. “Mr. Woods was not only looking for a good musician, but also someone physically able to march while carrying a Sousaphone. I happened to meet both requirements,” Tom added. He also explained that the tuba section is unlike other instrument sections with first, second, and third parts. “Generally, all the tubas play the same part, with the exception of an occasional solo part,” Tom explained.

       Following high school, Jim went to IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, now Purdue University Fort Wayne [PFW]) for three semesters studying civil engineering from 1969 through January 1971. Following a mandatory transfer to Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus from February 1971 through May 1973, he graduated with a BSCE degree. “But there was no time for music at Purdue,” he emphasized.

       Tom also attended IPFW and Purdue University in West Lafayette, also graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

       Jim immediately went to work as a civil engineer for the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) five days after graduation. And, with the exception of 13 months at Hagerman Construction from 1990-1991, he worked his whole career at INDOT, retiring in July 2014 with more than 40 years of service.

       Tom has been employed for 41 plus years as a civil engineer in the Construction Department at INDOT and has not yet retired.

       In addition to music, Jim says, “I enjoy spending time with family, including attending the grandkid’s sports, plays, and concerts.” He and his wife, Peggy – whom he met at CCHS – were married in 1974. They also enjoy attending St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, traveling, cruising, seeing new places, camping, playing cards and games, reading, and dining out. Jim volunteers as an usher at church, holds membership in the Knights of Columbus (K of C), does charity work and AARP tax preparation. He says they are blessed with three children – a daughter and two sons – and 12 grandchildren. One son, Bob, played trumpet for four years in the Bishop Dwenger High School Band. “We get together all the time, and every other year at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina,” Jim added.

       Tom enjoys camping, wood working, antique electric fans, model trains, and model rocketry. He also volunteers as an usher at St. Charles and is a member of the K of C. He said he played a major role in the restoration of the old Wolf & Dessauer Santa Claus and Reindeer display, seeing it through to completion. He and his wife, Diane, were married in 1984. They have two children and four grandchildren. Both are active at church and enjoy spending time with their grandchildren and attending their activities. “We get together often,” Tom added.

       A daughter, Mary, played trumpet in the St. Charles Elementary School Band. And a son, Michael, played tuba in both the St. Charles and Bishop Dwenger bands. “He then went on to play Sousaphone in the Purdue All-American Marching Band for two years, and then played Purdue’s ‘World’s Largest Bass Drum’ for an additional two years,” Tom said. “And for a couple of summers,” Tom proudly added, “Michael played tuba in the FWACB sitting aside his dad and uncle!” Michael continues to play tuba in the Carmel Community Band.

       In addition to playing in the FWACB, both Jim and Tom have played a couple of times at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Charles and performed with the Salvation Army Band for the lighting of the downtown Santa display. They’ve each also played with the American Legion Band for the Honor Flight returnees and for Tuba Christmas concerts.

       Both brothers saw the small article in a Fort Wayne newspaper in November 1979 announcing the formation and first rehearsal at IPFW of a community band in Fort Wayne to be led by the late Dr. William F. Schlacks. He turned out to be the founding conductor of the Fort Wayne Area Community Band and the Keefer brothers are two of eight remaining charter members still playing with the Band.

       “Tom mentioned seeing the article, so we decided to show up,” said Jim. “We’re sure glad we did,” he added. It had been more than 10 years since Jim had played his instrument and three years for Tom to go without playing.

       “The Community Band’s tuba section has fluctuated from just the two of us to a maximum of five. Probably at least 50 players have come and gone,” Jim recalled. 

       “Remarkably, after 44 years, the Band is still going strong,” said Tom, and added, “I wish we would have kept a list of names of all the members, conductors, and especially the tuba players that have come and gone over the years. Sitting next to members of the Band weekly, you become friends and, sadly, some members of the tuba section have passed away while still active members of the section.”

       Both brothers agree that playing in the FWACB provides a great opportunity to keep playing the tuba – which they love doing – interacting with other Band members and performing for audiences that enjoy the concerts.