How do you say “thank you” to a professor who has changed your life? Former students of retired Professor James H. Latimer found a way.
Initiated by two anonymous $5,000 gifts, a team of 10 former students and two friends gifted more than the necessary $25,000 required to establish a permanent endowment in Latimer’s name through the UW Foundation to thank the professor who “led by example and was a teacher, mentor and friend.”
The James H. Latimer Excellence in Percussion Fund was established and given final approval on January 8, 2021 by the UW Foundation, the College of Letters and Science, and the Mead Witter School of Music. Funds generated from the endowment will be administered by the School of Music in the form of an annual achievement cash award to a senior or upper-level undergraduate percussion major who meets the criteria as determined by the percussion area leadership.
Due to the pandemic, the surprise announcement of the endowment with Professor Latimer was announced via Zoom with a handful of former students and friends across the country. The first ever achievement (cash) award will be presented to the selected student later in the spring term as determined by School of Music Director Susan C. Cook and current percussion professor Anthony Di Sanza, both of whom participated in the Zoom call.
“We are very excited about this wonderful award in honor of Professor Latimer,” Di Sanza said. “Through his 30 year teaching career at UW-Madison, Professor Latimer touched the lives of countless students, passing on his joyful approach to music and life with every interaction. Now, those very students have come together to recognize all that Professor Latimer has done and support the next generation of percussion excellence at UW-Madison. This is a very exciting time for the UW-Madison percussion program.”
The list of testimonials from students is long, many referring to Latimer’s classic “green ink” and four years of lesson notebooks.
“Actually, I’m quite humbled,” Latimer said. “I was doing my job and that job was to take each student from where he or she was and bring them into reality with themselves, help them become better people, give them direction and show them that you get there by spending uninterrupted hours in the practice room.”
When he arrived at UW-Madison in 1968, Latimer’s assignment was to build an undergraduate percussion program. The department was built on the strength of each student.
“It’s a math thing,” Latimer, himself a math enthusiast, said. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”
Latimer recalls students commenting about him “getting up at 5 am and practicing three to four hours every day before arriving to the classroom.”
“That’s what I do!” Latimer said. “I did it then and that’s what I do now. Well, maybe I get up at 6 am now but I do practice six days a week. And I am grateful I can still do this.”
Students who initiated the award reached out to other former students and colleagues of Latimer and friends of the UW Percussion Program, inviting them to help grow the fund. The achievement award is designed for the student who spends hours in the practice room, the one who has developed the most or has to work a little harder than most, the one who will undoubtedly be successful, not necessarily the star of the department.
The fund, which was kept secret from Latimer until the Zoom presentation, was initiated by Steven Cornelius, (BA 1975), now a professor in Boston, who said he had “many Madison-based co-conspirators.”
Marcus Bleecker (BA 1992) from New Jersey gave this tribute: “Mr. Latimer had such an enormous impact on this young man from New Jersey who thought he knew everything! A shining example of discipline, commitment, and integrity. His passion and guidance and words of wisdom are still in my back pocket every day!”
Nancy (Kath) Riesch-Flannery (BA1977, MA 1978) said of Latimer: “His energy and drive is inspirational, and his love for music is contagious.”
Nimesh Nagarsheth (BS 1993-Zoology) goes further: “Professor Latimer has been one of the most influential people in my life. He has a unique gift of teaching-not only music but about life. My work with him lasted far beyond my time in college and his mentorship has helped shape my career as cancer surgeon and musician.”
“I wanted the students to learn to love their art, to experience the joy in practicing hours a day and to apply all that they learned to real life,” the still-in-shock Latimer explained.
The former students and friends of the UW Percussion Program found an inspirational and unusual way to show appreciation that will last into perpetuity for a professor who impacted their lives in unique ways through, and beyond, music. Latimer said he is humbled by it all.
“It’s a wonderful gesture for a student of percussion and for the Mead Witter School of Music,” Latimer said. “The University of Wisconsin is a great institution. These students have said it all.”
The newly established fund is ongoing. Gifts are tax deductible payable to the UW Foundation. For fund designation online (https://secure.supportuw.org/give) or in the memo section of a check, enter Latimer Excellence in Percussion Fund # 13260025. Send checks to: US Bank Lockbox, Box 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807.