High expectations

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

Armed with a smile, a thermos and a tremendous love of music, Jim Nettles was a man committed to excellence and a “Sound Tradition.”

Nettles, who passed away Tuesday while in Texas for treatment of pancreatic cancer, leaves behind countless students who remember his legacy as one of Andalusia High School’s greatest band directors, serving in the role from 1961-1987.

Leisa Barton Taylor and her family lived across the road from Nettles and wife, Arlene, who taught dance. Taylor was an AHS student from 1976-1980.

“Because I grew up across the street and was friends with his daughter, he and his family were more like family to me,” Taylor said. “I remember he was a great cook and what a talented musician he was.

“I guess some of my best memories of him are how he encouraged me to give more that I thought I was capable of. In fact, he was that way with all of his students. He expected a lot from us and he got it,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor. That was just him.”

Terry Wilhite, a 1983 AHS graduate who “didn’t miss a Friday night game in four years,” took inspiration from Nettles and his love of music. He has served as a church instrumentalist for more than 30 years and is employed as the communications director for Baldwin County Public Schools.

“(Nettles) expected the best,” Wilhite said. “He challenged us as individuals and as a band. Looking back, I believe he was more interested in us being in an environment of high expectations and excellence than stressing over each individual note we played. He knew we missed notes, however, aiming to be our best could never be missed in his band.

“Playing in his band was like playing football for Bear Bryant,” he said. “We couldn’t see it then but looking back, it just shows you just how much kids respond and expect discipline, structure and for someone to have high expectations of them.”

Whilhite said students didn’t recognize it then, “but what sophisticated music notation computer software does now almost effortlessly, Jim Nettles did all by ear, listening to hit records and transcribing each of the band’s parts by hand.”

“It was masterful and whatever was playing on the radio, you heard the Andalusia High School Band play at half time on Friday night,” he said. “He could have been teaching music anywhere he wanted to but God blessed us by putting Jim Nettles at Andalusia High School.”

Timothy Douglas, class of 1985, described Nettles’ drive.

“Like most all teachers I remember from AHS, he kept pushing us because he knew we could always do more. He expected us to do more. It could always be better.”

Clark Wilson, AHS 1971 graduate, credits Nettles as a person who “truly and significantly” impacted his life.

“Of the half a dozen or so people whom I consider to have truly and significantly impacted my life, Jim Nettles was the first,” he said. “Being in the band was one of the few anchors I had in high school and it was at a time when I really needed one. In some ways it has continued to be a point of reference for me even today. (When we talked) he was non-critical and non-judgmental. I never forgot that. I wanted to be like him.”

Many former students left comments on a Facebook page, Remembering Jim Nettles, created Tuesday, but perhaps none more poignant than Caryl Lee Jackson’s.

“I was there the last year that he taught,” wrote Jackson, who was the fourth child in her family. “When he cleaned out his office, he brought out some old, dirty tennis shoes, that he marched in. When he held them up for all of us to see he smirked and said ‘I won’t need these anymore.’

“He dropped them into the garbage, and the room went quiet. My friend went and retrieved the shoes. I remember thinking, ‘This is the end of an era, but not the end of the memories.’ He touched my life and I will miss him.”

Editor’s note: Reports from friends indicate Jim Nettles was cremated in Texas. No local services have been announced.