Raymond Dombrowski

A musician, he taught at Bel Air High School for more than 30 years, where he formed and led three school bands.

August 29, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Raymond J. Dombrowski, who taught music at Bel Air High School for more than 30 years and also was leader of the school's band and Bobcat Marching Band, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. He was 79.

Mr. Dombrowski, the son of Polish immigrant parents, was born in Pittsburgh and raised in New Castle, Pa.

He began playing piano when he was 4, and after learning to play the saxophone and clarinet when he was a teenager, began performing with local dance bands.

After graduating from high school, he attended Mansfield State Teachers College in Mansfield, Pa., and later transferred to Pennsylvania State University, where he performed with choral, instrumental and drama groups.

After earning a bachelor's degree in music in 1951, he enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the military hospital at Valley Forge, Pa., where he played in its band, and later joined the 2nd Army Band at Fort Meade.

Discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1953, he moved to Bel Air and took a job at Bel Air High School as an instrumental music teacher and department chairman.

Within two years of arriving in Harford County, Mr. Dombrowski, who was called "Mr. D" by generations of students, formed two bands and a 50-piece marching band, which participated in its first out-of-town parade in 1955.

In 1965, he earned a master's degree in music from the University of Maryland and did additional music studies at the Peabody Conservatory and what is now Towson University.

In addition to teaching music to students from seventh through the 12th grades, he also led the Bobcat Marching Band, which eventually grew to 180 musicians and 60 other members in its marching units.

His award-winning bands and musical groups developed a reputation that spread far beyond the state.

In 1976, the Bobcat Marching Band was selected to represent the state in the National Bicentennial Parade held July 4 in Philadelphia. The next year, it traveled to Washington, where it had been selected to perform in President's Park outside the White House.

"After we had returned to school from a parade and turned in our uniforms and changed our clothes, 'Mr. D' would stand at the top of a flight of stairs and personally call by name and congratulate each band member as they left school," said Joe Snee, now a Bel Air attorney.

Dawn Massarelli, now a Bel Air paralegal, recalled arriving at school early in the morning.

"He was always so jovial. We'd get to school and go right to the band room, where we enjoyed listening to music with 'Mr. D,' " she said.

Mark Goldberg, now a patent attorney in Des Plaines, Ill., played clarinet in the band from 1968 to 1971.

"He was greatly admired, and his classes weren't a competition for grades. They were simply enjoyable," said Mr. Goldberg. "He inspired us to play well and sound good, and all of the students respected and admired him."

That respect and admiration led to a 50th reunion in 2003 of former band members who celebrated Mr. Dombrowski's arrival at Bel Air High School.

"They got about 100 people from the 1950s through the 1980s to come," Mr. Goldberg said. "And it was the push I needed to start playing the clarinet again. I had stopped about 20 years ago."

Mr. Dombrowski also conducted the Bel Air High School Alumni Band at a concert that was part of the Bel Air Summer Concert Series.

"They came from 19 states and several foreign countries," said his wife of 52 years, the former Esther Everitt, who retired as Bel Air High's librarian in 1984.

Marytherese Streett, who taught English, history and art at the high school, is a longtime friend of the Dombrowskis.

"Even the parents and families of the kids came to the concert. I remember one band member from West Virginia couldn't play because her dog had bitten her lip, but her parents came anyway," Mrs. Streett said.

"The students always loved him. He was the top of the line, and there's no doubt about that," she said.

There was another reunion concert in 2006. Another was planned for this year but had to be canceled because of Mr. Dombrowski's failing health.

He and his wife were named Harford Living Treasures by the Harford County Council in 2002.

Since 1983, when he joined the musicians' union, Mr. Dombrowski worked as a freelance musician, performing with bands, marching groups, combos, symphony orchestras and as a solo strolling violinist.

Mr. Dombrowski was active in Polish cultural organizations and had been a member of the Polish Legion of American Veterans. He established a post of the organization in Baltimore in 1998.

For the past eight years, the Baltimore post has hosted the annual March commemoration of Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski's birthday. He also participated in the annual Polish Festival and the October observance of Pulaski Day.

He was a member of both the Harford County Veterans Commission and the Maryland Veterans Commission.

Mr. Dombrowski was a communicant of St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church, 141 Hickory Ave., Bel Air, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. today.

Also surviving are a brother, Andrew "Bis" Dombrowski of Joppa; and five nephews.

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