Music Man '56 Graduate
It’s a good thing Jim Sherbon was in school the day a strange man walked into his fourth-grade class at Washington Elementary School in Arkansas City nearly 60 years ago. Had Sherbon not been there, or at the very least not paid attention to what the man was saying, he may have chosen a very different career path.
August Trollman, Arkansas City’s legendary instrumental music instructor, made a little recruiting stop at Washington that day, and in the process made quite an impression on the young Sherbon. His recruiting statement was to the point: He simply encouraged the students to join the band. “This man, on that day, changed my life from that point forward,” said Sherbon, now retired Dr. James W. Sherbon, a 1956 graduate of Arkansas City Junior College. “He formulated my lifetime career, absolutely. “All I remember is that I went home and said this person came in and wanted me to play in the band. My dad had his old trombone, and he said that I could use it if I wanted to.” Sherbon did. He became proficient at playing the trombone and wanted to play professionally for a living.
Eventually, he turned toward a career as a music educator. He recently retired after more than 40 years as a teacher and mentor, including 27 years at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Having grown up in a family with such strong ties to automobiles, Sherbon was poised to join the business. His father, Ora, was a mechanic and owned a repair shop on South A Street. That’s where Sherbon spent a lot of his time after school. Following World War II, Sherbon’s father and mother, Bessie, purchased a DeSoto-Plymouth dealership in Arkansas City, further cementing Sherbon’s future in some facet of the automotive industry. Or so it seemed. “From my earliest memories clear on through, all I had known was the automobile business,” Sherbon said. He even completed 16 credit hours of automotive classes at ACJC.
However, music simply was too much fun. “I was so active in music all the way through,” Sherbon said. “In high school, music really was my life. I was in band, orchestra, was student conductor, and president of the band. A group of us was really into it. My thinking was that automotive was a business, and music to me was an enjoyment.” That enjoyment turned into a career that Sherbon hadn’t given much thought. That is until he talked one day with his academic advisor at Emporia State Teachers College, Dr. Robert Taylor. “He said ‘Jim, it’s time for you to make a decision,’ ” Sherbon said. “He asked me if I wanted to be a teacher, and I said I guess so.” Having realized that playing the trombone professionally would be a poor choice, Sherbon immersed himself into the teacher education program at Emporia. He completed upper-level courses and his student-teaching assignment and began to develop some interest in teaching as a career.
During his senior year at Emporia, Sherbon was hired as a halftime music instructor for kindergarten through eighth grade at Allen, Kan. He went there two days a week and conducted the band and taught general music. It was a great experience, he said. “I was thinking that these are pretty darn good kids and this is kind of fun,” Sherbon said. “It was a rural school, small-town environment, good farm families. They were delightful students. I liked it.” Sherbon’s experience at Allen ended any thoughts about the automobile business. With few credits remaining to graduate, Sherbon accepted a teaching assistantship at Emporia State his senior year and began studying for a master’s degree, which he earned, in music education, in May 1960.
While working toward his graduate degree, Sherbon conducted Emporia State’s marching band and taught brass private lessons and methods classes. “That put me into a motivating situation, and that was good,” he said. “It really sort of put the icing on the cake.” That same spring, Sherbon received his first full-time job, getting paid $5,000 to teach band and orchestra at Argentine Junior/Senior High School in Kansas City. Sherbon also got a teaching job for his wife, the former Glenda Steward, whom he married on May 27, 1959, in Holton, Kan. The couple met at Emporia State. They purchased a home in Kansas City and mutually began their careers in the fall of 1960, he at Argentine, Glenda as a fourth-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School just eight blocks from Argentine.
About 1968, Sherbon made another life-changing decision. “After about eight years into the job, I began to see myself pulling things out of the file and repeating paths,” he said. “I would pull out music that we’d played before. I’d pull out various kinds of things. I wasn’t being creative, and I was getting into a rut.” A friend in drama who taught at Argentine had earned his doctorate from the University of Kansas, and he encouraged Sherbon to consider it. “I thought I needed to do something with my life rather than marching around in the mud,” Sherbon said. He made the decision to begin work on a Ph.D. at KU in 1969, enrolled in summer school, and officially broke ties with Argentine in 1970.
In fall 1973, Sherbon earned a doctorate in music education. His goal was to teach at the university level. The day Sherbon left his job at Argentine in May 1970, the music program was flourishing, with more than 100 students in senior high band, 50 in senior high orchestra, and about 45 in junior high band. Trollman would have been proud. “I learned so much from August Trollman,” Sherbon said. “I was involved in music two years at juco, and took some classes from Kenneth Judd. That’s where I began learning the structure of music.” Following his doctorate, Sherbon remained at KU for one year to administer a Humanities program under a research grant. Then came a one-year appointment at the University of Texas at Austin. The Sherbons sold their house in Kansas City and moved to Texas. One year later, Sherbon was hired by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The position was defined as graduate music education and research. “I was working only with graduate students in the music education division,” he said. “I went there and immediately began teaching graduate classes, master’s and doctoral classes, and advising doctoral students.”
From 1975 to 2002, Sherbon did his best to emulate his mentor, Trollman. He impacted hundreds of students, advised numerous doctoral students whose goals were similar to his, and he helped them any way he could, just like Trollman used to. “Many times, I kind of missed the performance area and being a band director,” Sherbon said. “Those thoughts came back to haunt me a good number of times. I did concert band at UNC-G one year. Other than that, all 27 years were basically devoted to music education.” In 1983, Sherbon was appointed director of graduate studies in music education, a position he held 15 years. While administering the program, he advised close to 200 students in a curricular way and eight to 10 graduate students at the dissertation stage. And he still managed to teach. His motto is of Henry Adams, who said, “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”
One June 30, 2002, Sherbon probably thought his influence had stopped as he officially retired from UNC-Greensboro. But nothing could be further from the truth. He and his wife moved back to Kansas City, but retirement would have to wait. The phone rang, and it was the dean at UNC-G. The university had failed to fill Sherbon’s position, and the school was in dire straits. Reluctantly, Sherbon signed a one-year contract with the university to teach his graduate music classes from his home in Lenexa over the Internet. He also kept his dissertation advisees. It was far from retirement. “It was a very traumatic, consuming year,” Sherbon said. “Enrollment in my classes more than doubled for one reason or another, probably because a lot of students felt distance learning classes were easy.” Near the end of Sherbon’s one-year contract, UNC-G conducted another search for his replacement. Again, it failed to find a suitable candidate. Again, the phone rang. “I said I’ll come back one more time, but I will not teach classes,” Sherbon said. Instead, he kept his final dissertation students and, in early May 2005, hooded the last three with their doctorates during UNC-G’s commencement. “My main focus throughout the years was my association with students,” Sherbon said. “That was where the rewards came. The higher education system has its difficulties, but seeing students get those university positions, progress and make a name for themselves on the national scene is really where the rewards have come.”
During the early stages of Sherbon’s “retirement,” he has managed to stay unretired. “I found out I don’t want to retire,” he said. Unable to sit still, Sherbon took a stroll down memory lane when he enrolled in Johnson County Community College’s National Academy of Railroad Sciences program. He completed the course and now has a conductor’s certificate. “I worked my way through college during summers as a brakeman on the Santa Fe out of Wellington,” Sherbon said. “I didn’t do the course to get a job. It put me on a structure. It brought home a lot of old memories. I worked my tail off. It did a lot for me.” And that’s not all. In January, Sherbon applied for and received his substitute teaching license for the state of Kansas. “It’s good pay, good work, and for the first time in my life, I can go into a job unprepared,” said Sherbon, who has been a regular substitute in the Olathe school district since April. He has taught music, science, and industrial technology courses.
Sherbon said the environment at ACJC, created in part by Trollman, Judd, Paul Johnson, Dan Kahler, Allan Maag and Dan Stark, made it conducive to learning. “Juco provided me with a solid foundation and a viable transition to Emporia State, and caused me to begin opening my mind toward the fact that there were other opportunities in life and better careers that might be lurking in the future,” he said. The Sherbons have two daughters, Gina and Juli, and one grandson, Josh. Glenda has become active in choral groups within Johnson County. Jim, or “Jimmie” as he’s known by close friends, isn’t sure he’ll ever retire. “I do some wood turning, which came from my childhood,” he said. “I’ve got a shop set up in the basement, and I really enjoy it. But I need to be out with people.” His Original Creations by Jim can be found on the Internet at www.uncg.edu/~jwsherbo/projects/index.htm. Although he misses the automobile industry, Sherbon said he still takes care of his vehicles, just as he took care of thousands of students throughout the years.
“I feel good about my life,” Sherbon said. “I’m happy with my accomplishments. I feel like I contributed to students and their education. I still have a lot of students contacting me for letters of reference. And several students I taught at Argentine call me. It’s great to look out and see these doctoral students and see their dissertations.” To say Sherbon is an opportunist would be an understatement. “The paths have been out there,” he said. “I’ve kicked the doors and they’ve opened.” Note: Sherbon also has been busy keeping track of his 1954 Arkansas City High School classmates. Check out his web site at www.uncg.edu/~jwsherbo/index.html.