ABILENE, Texas — The people that we cross paths with during our educational career have the power to initiate some of the greatest influences in who we are, and who we will become. For the band kids at Wylie High School in Abilene from 1987 to 1998, that person was Band Director Louis Thornton.
Louis lost his battle with cancer in October of 2009, but the influence he left on the Abilene community can still be heard throughout the Big Country.
Born in San Angelo, he spent much of his childhood participating in 4-H and the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. Though he was thoroughly involved on a local level, his love for music was born in Rankin, Texas when he decided to join the band in seventh grade. Louis learned to play both alto and tenor saxophone, later graduating from McCamey High School. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music Education from Sul Ross State College in 1968.
Louis teaching career began in Bronte, where he met his wife, Lynda. They had two children, Melody Lyn and Michael Louis. He later accepted the head director position in Jacksboro in 1978, where he taught for nine years. In 1987 he made his way to the Big Country, where he became the head director for Wylie Independent School District, and in 1998 he became a band director for Abilene Christian Schools before retiring in 2001.
"Louis believed that small schools could have quality programs just like the bigger schools did could," she said. "Not everyone believed that, but he believed that... he thought quality came in all sizes." "It was important to him to have an organization that supported the unique interest of small schools in the state of Texas. He had this unique ability to help students feel accepted and like they belong. He strode to build character and acceptance, and help students achieve their potential."
The impact that Louis left on band kids was huge. In 1994, Wylie High School qualified for the state marching contest for the first time, and won the sweepstakes for ten of the eleven years that Louis was their band director. The band program grew throughout his time from 45 students to over 160, making over a quarter of the student body at Wylie a part of the band program.
Louis was very passionate about small school bands, and worked tirelessly to help develop what is now the Association of Texas Small School Bands (ATSSB), which will be honoring him this year by inducting Louis into their Hall of Fame as 'Person of the Year'. Starting at 16 members, ATSSB has now grown to over 1,200. "It's an honor, especially since he retired 25 years ago," said Lynda. "It's just nice to know that people remember him and appreciated him for his contributions to the world of music."
While at Wylie High School, Louis started the tradition of playing "It Is Well" after every football game, which even after his retirement and passing, is a tradition that still continues today. "It actually was one of his favorite songs and one year at [a] convention he found the band arrangement for it, and so he thought he'd bring it back and play it. He did and everybody loved it, the students loved it, the parents loved it, and so he just started playing it and he started ending every performance with it and every ball game with it. It's just a tradition that has continued this 25 years later," Lynda explained.
Louis will be inducted into the ATSSB Hall of Fame on February 10th, 2023, during a General Session in San Antonio. The Hall of Fame Committee unanimously voted to induct him.
Lynda teared up when asked about one of her fondest memories of Louis. In a later interview following a stem cell transplant, Louis was asked, "what has helped you the most?"
He replied "My wife, she's my hero."
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