Paul O. Sawyer
(May 27, 1906 – February 19, 1987)

Paul Oscar Sawyer’s experience as a band director in Indiana during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s included teaching positions at Dover (3 years), Decatur Central (Indianapolis, 3 years), Greenwood (2 years), Tipton (4 years), and Charlestown (9 years). While at Charlestown, he tested students for musical ability during the fifth grade and decided that Gary Wiggins should learn to play trombone.  Mr. Sawyer himself was a trombone player, so the free lessons he gave to Gary during the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades provided him with a firm musical foundation and were in fact the only sustained formal training in music he ever had. To honor the memory of Mr. Sawyer for his gift of music education to many Indiana students, Gary established the Paul O. Sawyer Brass Chair in the Bloomington Community Band.

By the time of the 1930 US Census, Paul O. Sawyer had found his chosen occupation. He was listed there as a musician. Mr. Sawyer received formal musical education at Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana and the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music in Indianapolis (which in 1951 became a part of Butler University). Mr. Sawyer held the first chair trombone seat in the Arthur Jordan concert band, and he previously played in the U.S. Army Service Band. In 1948 Mr. Sawyer completed a master’s degree in music education at the Jordan Conservatory. He studied trombone with Noble Howard, a former Sousa band member who played with the Indianapolis Symphony. In addition to trombone, he studied flute with James Hasmer of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, oboe with Harvey McGuire of the Cleveland Symphony, and percussion with Charles Hengie of the Jordan Conservatory.

Inspired by a survey of music education in 100 Indiana schools that formed the basis for his master’s thesis, Mr. Sawyer implemented in the fall of 1948 an ambitious plan for additional practice classes for Tipton music students. He divided the band into eight sections and met alternately with the students in 30-minute periods. He viewed this as the first step in an extension of the music curriculum at Tipton. Unfortunately, school officials there were not receptive to that idea, and Mr. Sawyer resigned his position in May 1949, charging that the program was “antiquated” and that the Tipton officials did not appreciate good music.

Mr. Sawyer’s philosophy of teaching was expressed in a quote in the Tipton Tribune at that time: “One would not expect a student to be a machinist by reading it out of a book. Neither can one expect a student to be a musician or appreciate good music unless that student has an opportunity to advance on a chosen instrument.” Newspapers throughout the state (Columbus, Indianapolis, Terre Haute) picked up the story, which ended with the information that he planned to become a salesman for an Indianapolis distribution company. Fortunately, Charlestown seized the opportunity presented by Mr. Sawyer’s dispute with Tipton and hired him to begin teaching there in the fall of 1949, leading to his longest tenure at any of the Indiana schools. He and his wife then moved to Florida in 1959 where he taught music at Jacksonville University for 14 years.

Paul O. Sawyer was born in Indiana on May 27, 1906 to a German immigrant mother, Amelia, who was married to his much older stepfather, Jessee Bond, according to the 1910 Census. Mr. Sawyer married a school teacher, Jessie I. Hester (b. abt. 1903, d. 7/31/1987), the daughter of two doctors: Robert Hester and Laura Mace. Jessie was first married to Earl Abertus Sprague, and they had a daughter, Rosamond Kay (b. 4/2/1934).  Rosamond was apparently adopted by Paul and used the last name Sawyer thereafter. She was a pianist who graduated from Charlestown High School in 1951 and became a student at Purdue University. Rosamond married Charles D. Musgrave (also a Purdue graduate), and they had two children. Paul Sawyer died February 19, 1987 in Polk County, Florida and is buried in Scottsburg, Indiana. By 1951, Laura Hester was living in Scottsburg, which explains why he and Jessie are buried there.

–Gary Wiggins, 4/12/2020