IMHS grad gives to school Music department to receive $200,000 donation


Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – Everyone has fond memories of teachers they had in school and sometimes there is one that stands out ahead of the rest.

It’s a teacher who made an impact on their students’ lives sometimes without even knowing it.

It was this way for Gary Johnson, a 1961 graduate of Iron Mountain High School. He had that connection with longtime band director Wally Swanson. Johnson had great respect for Swanson, who had instilled in him a love for music, said Iron Mountain Schools Supt. Tom Jayne.

Johnson, 71, wants to give something back to his alma mater – specifically the Iron Mountain School District’s Music Department. He is making a donation of $200,000 to be used to enhance the music program, with the first $100,000 coming to the school district by June.

Johnson currently lives in Tampa, Fla. and moved there in July 1970 from Dearborn, where he had taught elementary school. In Florida, he went back to school to get a business degree and ended up with a master’s in business administration (MBA) from the University of Tampa. He sat for the certified public accountant exam in 1978, and secured his license after graduation from the University of Tampa.

Currently, Johnson owns and operates several temporary help and employee leasing firms in Florida and Georgia.

Upon learning of the donation, the four music teachers at the Iron Mountain Public Schools – band director Craig Recla, vocal music instructor Gail Vornkahl, and elementary music teachers Char Curtis and Ed Williams – made a list of needs for their respective programs.

Johnson has been consulted and agreed to the items on the list with a plan now to make some needed improvements to the music program for the 2013-14 school year, Jayne added.

And for the next 10 years, Johnson will be making an annual $10,000 donation to the school district’s music department.

For the upcoming school year, Jayne said, the plan is to spend $55,000 on new instruments for students in grades 5-12 to use. There are many instruments needing to be replaced and often times the instructors don’t have enough of certain instruments for a student to use.

“Being able to replace instruments at such a large scale is a wonderful gift,” Jayne said.

“It is something that’s been put off for a long time. We will be trying to stock the cupboards with beginner instruments – trumpets, trombones, flutes, etc. We’ve had a limited supply of these instruments for kids who just want to try out an instrument to see if they want to play it,” he said. “They don’t want to go out and buy the instrument or rent it just to try it out. This is also for kids who don’t have the finances to rent/buy an instrument.”

Another need that will be met by this donation will be to purchase an electronic elementary music curriculum, which is online. The cost for that is $18,000 and will replace the current curriculum, which is 18 years-old.

‘Since it’s online, it’s something that can be sent to personal devices. The curriculum is modern and up-to-date and has been long overdue to be replaced,” Jayne noted.

Four new electric pianos are also being purchased with Johnson’s donation. The pianos will be computer-aided and one will be placed in each building – IMHS, Central School, North Elementary and East Elementary – to be used by the music instructors.

One need identified for the choral music program at IMHS is new uniforms – which is an item that can be sustainable in the district for 10-12 years.

“It’s something that is also long overdue,” Jayne said. “We haven’t been able to put aside money for it, because it hasn’t been readily available for uniform replacement. There will also be some chimes and other music items purchased for the choir through this donation.”

With the $10,000 to be donated yearly for the next 10 years, he added that some of that money will be put away for items that will need to be replaced in the future and the rest will be used to match funds they have budgeted to send students to music festivals each year.

One of these big ticket items that they are setting aside money for will be to eventually replace the band uniforms – in 5-7 years.

Jayne said that each band uniform costs approximately $450.

“We just can’t thank Mr. Johnson enough for his donation to the school district. It is a blessing for the music department and a gift that will keep on giving. It will strengthen our music program from K-12 grades at Iron Mountain,” Jayne said.

Linda Lobeck’s e-mail address is