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Family, friends remember Dewey Possehl as an encouraging teacher, music promoter in Fargo-Moorhead

"He made every musical experience better," friends say about the recent death of the 92-year-old.

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Dewey Possehl returned to the FM Area Youth Symphonies, the group he co-founded, in 2016 as a guest conductor. Photo courtesy of FM Area Youth Symphonies / Special to The Forum
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FARGO — Dewey Possehl always had his trumpet nearby, but he’d never toot his own horn.

After his death on Saturday, Oct. 30, at New Perspectives Senior Living in West Fargo, family, friends and colleagues are happy to do it for the 92-year-old, remembering a great teacher, music advocate, performer and, most of all, a good man.

“He just did his thing. He just walked through life serving and never made an issue of it,” says Gene Okerlund, a friend of over 50 years.

A music teacher in Fargo Public Schools, Okerlund knew Possehl first as a counterpart at Moorhead’s South Junior High. Then as one of the founders of the Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphonies in 1970. Then as one of the founding members of the FM Kicks Band in 1975 and founding director of the Johnny Flag band that played Minnesota State University Moorhead's Fourth of July festivities. Possehl would also go on to play in the Fargo Moorhead Symphony Orchestra and F-M Jazz Arts Group and was the first conductor of the Lake Agassiz Concert Band.

“Music was a joy to him. He loved to play and listen,” says Possehl’s oldest daughter, Jan Scholl. “He loved to crank up the stereo and my mother didn’t always appreciate that.”

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Possehl married Margery Johnson in 1952, having met her while attending MSUM. Also a music teacher, an organist and choir director at Bethesda Lutheran Church , they raised a family of four daughters on music.

“It wasn’t so much, ‘Are you going to play an instrument?’ but ‘What instrument are you going to play?’” Christie Possehl recalls.

Christie took up violin, which meant that she was the only sister not to have her father as a band teacher as Jan played clarinet, Polly played tuba and Sara played French horn.

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Dewey Possehl celebrating his 90th birthday with his daughters (l-r) Sara Forness, Christie Possehl, Polly Preston and Jan Scholl. Submitted / Christie Possehl

“He was a teacher everybody loved. I always felt very proud of him because everyone enjoyed his classes,” says Scholl, who went on to play professionally as well as teach.

“It was the love of music that he wanted to pass on. When you love music, it’s easy to teach it,” says Christie, also a professional musician and teacher. “That’s what he was hoping for with his students, that it would be part of their lives forever.”

The Facebook page Moorhead Spud History posted Possehl’s obit which elicited about 50 responses from former students and friends recalling his kindness, generosity and ability to open their eyes and ears to music.

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“Mr. Possehl was a great musician and mentor to me at South Jr. while I was learning trumpet and how to read music. Saddened to hear he has passed away, but what a great run he had! A life well lived,” wrote Jeff Cerise, who would go on to front bands like Stickman and The Phones.

Scholl says her father would hear things like that from time to time when he went out, running into former students. She says it was so touching not only to hear what students said about him, but that he would still remember students and what they played.

“He really cared about his students. He would remember his kids. I don't remember all of my former students,” she says.

Brian Cole, an orchestra teacher in Moorhead Public Schools and a conductor with FM Area Youth Symphonies, says Possehl succeeded as a teacher by focusing on the student, not the music. As a result, he got great results. Cole came to Moorhead well after Possehl retired, but he’s listened to recordings from Possehl’s school bands.

“His groups were dynamite. Top notch,” Cole says.

Cole says that over the years, Possehl was brought back as a guest conductor for concerts.

His influence as a teacher continued outside of the classroom and well after he retired in 1985. Christopher Hanson met him in the early 2000s when they played together in the Jazz Arts Group.

“I heard stories about him being a well-liked educator. His approach was all about encouragement, encouraging kids to excel,” the trombonist says. “As a performer, he was able to bring that same approach to bands. I felt encouraged by him. It was a special touch having Dewey in the ensemble. He made every musical experience better.”

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“He didn’t have an ego,” says Okerlund. “He played a wicked trumpet. He was great with improvisation.”

Possehl and Okerlund teamed up over the last 14 years, performing jazz and later country tunes in area senior centers and homes.

For all of the praise Okerlund and others have for him, Possehl had one flaw.

“He was notorious for being on the late side,” Okerlund says.

Sometimes Possehl would not show up until a performance had already started, once walking in the door midsong, playing with his trumpet in one hand and carrying his trumpet case in the other.

“I don’t think you could embarrass the guy,” Okerlund says. “He was quite laid-back. But any opportunity to play a little jazz, he was all up for that.”

Even after Possehl accidentally cut off parts of his right thumb and index finger a decade ago, he kept playing.

“He just moved one finger down per valve,” Scholl says.

Possehl injured himself making lamps out of “every old instrument that came along,” Christie says. He made one for each of his daughters out of an instrument they played. Making a lamp out of a tuba was quite the project.

“It was a floor lamp and the bell held a planter,” recalls Christie. “It was very unique.”

The family will host a memorial for their father next summer, but others aren’t waiting. The FM Youth Symphonies will honor Possehl and its other founding members at a gala on Jan. 2.

Scholl says her dad was motivated to form so many musical groups because he felt that the community deserved music and musicians deserved the opportunities to play it.

“He saw what was out there in other communities and wanted that for Fargo-Moorhead,” she says.

“We’ll always remember Dewey as a giving person,” Okerlund says. “Serving the community was important to him.”

Related Topics: MUSICMOORHEADFARGO
For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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