From England to Batavia, the late music director brought standards and passion for music

The way Jim Owen tells the story, his father Frank had very high standards when it came to music and not every Owen in the family made the cut.

“My sister Kathy was a very good singer, and my brother Robert was a very good singer, and then there’s Jim,” the Redfield Parkway honorary chairman said, adding that his father wasn’t bad about it. “He was very encouraging to me, he knew I liked sports … cross-country, basketball and golf.”

Jim just saw a dream come true with the dedication of the Batavia High School auditorium after his father. Frank E. Owen was a very educated man and a man who would be “humbled but very grateful” to recognize how much he contributed to the music program, Jim said.

After a 37-year career as music director at BHS, the elder Owen joined the Board of Education, eventually earning the rank of president. Those “very high standards” came into play when Jim shared his goal of applying for a teaching job in the city’s school district.

He said ‘no way’. He was very ethical and didn’t think I should work in the district,” Jim said.

So, Jim worked as a teacher at Sacketts Harbor, and later at Hamburg Central School, where he enjoyed his work and coaching for 35 years. He retired from Hamburg Central in 2003 and then — finally — got a job as a substitute teacher in his original choice of Batavia City Schools.

Frank’s legacy
Frank founded a school band in 1930 and raised money to buy new uniforms and instruments. He later founded the community orchestra in 1947 and was inducted into the Note Music Hall of Fame. He would also “go the extra mile to get students into college,” Jim said, “using his great influence.”

It seems that Jim was destined to be a bright, teacher-type teacher, given the background of his father and his mother, Natalie Walker Owen, who spoke Latin, French and Spanish, and was on the library board. Jim has been involved in education for 55 years and counting, he said, and has shown the same appreciation for his students and colleagues as his father.

He chuckled a bit as he recalled that his sister Kathy (who died in 2019) was cheating in class one day and his father kicked her out. Those standards came back into play and “he had no favourites”.

“In that sense, he wanted you to focus. He was selective and wanted good quality,” said Jim. “One of his great contributions was, he was very, very proud of his choristers. They were singing on WBTA and on Jay Gordon Bridge’s armed forces broadcast. Some former students in Korea could hear it.”

As much as Frank has been discussed in preparation and during the dedication event, there are things that are not listed. He was a violinist, raised in England and would help children of all nationalities, Jim said. He was very good at spelling and articulation and even helped local announcer Chuck Platt practice before going on the air at WBTA.

“Dad would teach him how to articulate for broadcasts,” Jim said.

Frank worked in Williamsport, Penn. before applying for a job in Batavia. The rest, as has been said, is history in that he reformed the music department. He always preferred to use his middle initial (the E is for Earl, by the way), although he was sometimes mistakenly called Frankie.

The current high school band director and chair of the Music Department, Jane Haggett, has heard all about the senior Owen from Jim, who has done a lot of substitute teaching in the district. Naming the auditorium after Frank means something important to the district as a whole, she said.

“I think it just reinforces Batavia’s desire to have a strong music education for their students. I also think it’s about our drama and musical productions, which all relate to each other,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a music production club and produce our musicals without our choral program and our instrumental program and so on. It just wasn’t going to happen. Or not so well, I should say. But I have to say it gives a voice to music students.”

Haggett knows what it’s like to have music in your soul; she knew from a young age what her career would be, she said.

“I started playing the piano at age five and the flute when I was in the fifth grade, and by the time I was in the sixth grade, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do music. I knew I wanted to teach. I didn’t know what level or for high school or elementary school teachers, or just private tutors, but I knew I wanted to do something in music,” she said. “I felt like I was successful. And it made me happy. That’s why I followed him.”

Likewise, as a young violinist, Frank Owen seemed to know his direction in life. While in the city school district, he tutored both City Councilwoman Patti Pacino and State Assemblyman Steve Hawley. Jim credits Pacino for putting so much time and effort into the dedication, inviting fellow alums and collecting notes for the late music director. Learning music from Frank E. Owen wasn’t just an ordinary education, Pacino said, “it was magical.”

Jim’s parents “all the great qualities that the citizens of Batavia represent,” and Frank especially added drive, enthusiasm and talent to musical education, Jim said. His father even recruited a special guest to visit the district: John Philip Sousa.

Sousa, a patriotic composer who died in 1932, served as the 17th director of The President’s Own band from 1880 to 1892. The band’s most famous director, he wrote the national anthem “Stars and Stripes Forever” and the official march of the Marine Corps, “Semper Fidelis.” Jim has an autobiography written by Sousa, “Marshing Along”, signed by Sousa, made for Frank E. Owen in 1929.

Not too weak Frank E. Owen.

See the account of the dedication HERE.

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