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Bittersweet Evening Saying Goodbye to Heartand’s Band Instructor Mr. Royce Schweitzer at the 66th Annual German Smorgasbord

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Mr. Royce Schweitzer conducted his final concert at the Smorgasbord on Saturday evening.

How do you properly say goodbye to a beloved band instructor who has been at a school for 48 years? It’s not easy, but Mr. Royce Schweitzer’s finale at the annual 66th German Smorgasbord Band Fundraiser this past Saturday evening was the best way to bid him farewell—and it was a doozy! 

As expected, long lines spilled out the front entryway at Heartland by 5 p.m., but the Heartland Band Committee was prepared for the larger-than-normal crowds. The lines moved smoothly through the school’s hallways to the cafeteria, where the band parents served traditional favorite German dishes (Verenike, Zweiback, Apple Prieshke & more) to more than approximately 1,400 folks.

Long lines waited in the Heartland hallways as they made their way to the serving line in the cafeteria.

As visitors entered the building, they were invited to fill out a note card for Mr. Schweitzer with any memories or messages for him. A large handmade quilt featuring various Heartland Huskie and Smorgasbord t-shirt designs created by Lacey Panko was also on display as another parting gift for Mr. Schweitzer.

Around 1400, people enjoyed the always great Smorgasbord in the old gym, and this was the quilt made for Mr. Schweitzer by Lacey Panko.

Seating for the larger crowd was accommodated in the old gym, and the new gym was set up for the concert. After the serving shut down, approximately 900 people filled the north gym to enjoy an evening of the Heartland High School, Junior High, and Jazz Band performances.

The concert seemed like every other year, with Mr. Schweitzer always cool, calm, and collected, conducting his bands with his quiet confidence. He had prepared each of the bands well, even though they were performing under some pressure in front of a very large crowd saying goodbye to their director.  

It really was a bittersweet evening knowing this was his last Smorgasbord. Could it really be?  

Mr. Schweitzer continued the tradition of awarding the students who sold the most Smorgasbord tickets. This year’s top winner was Jake Mierau, who sold $1,000 worth of tickets. Second place was a tie between brother and sister Ben and Maddie Janzen, and Micah Haidle came in third. 

If you know Mr. Schweitzer, you know he’s all about the kids. During the concert, he introduced his successor, Mark Hiebner, a 2003 Heartland graduate who will be taking over the band program. “I know my kids will be in good hands with Mark,” he said. And that’s what matters most to Mr. Schweitzer. 

Luke Haidle, a member of the band parents committee, read a tribute to Mr. Schweitzer and expressed the community’s heartfelt appreciation for his service at Heartland. He commended him on the over 75 trophies his program has accumulated since he came on board in 1976 and his other achievements, such as Teacher of the Year and Father of the Year. 

All of the trophies accumulated during Mr. Schweitzer’s tenure were lined up on the old stage and marked according to each decade of his career.

“You have a remarkable heritage of achievements both inside and outside of the classroom with a phenomenal record of excellence and giving, and we want to applaud you and thank you,” said Haidle. 

 “There are a lot of people here, and they are here because you either loved on them or their kids, not because of the trophies. Your greatest legacy is not on the stage, but it’s the lives you have impacted over the years,” said Haidle. 

Another special moment during the evening was when former students of Mr. Schweitzer were asked to stand for each decade from 1976 to the present. Former students from as far away as Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, and all over Nebraska traveled to the event to bid Mr. Schweitzer farewell. 

Haidle presented him with a book of memories compiled by the Band Parent’s Committee. The book included notes, photos, and recollections from former students, colleagues, and anyone who wanted to thank him. He was also given a lifetime pass to Smorgasbord! 

Heartland vocal instructor Lynn Hall gave a heartfelt speech honoring and remembering Mr. Schweitzer’s roots and how he appreciated the support and mentoring he’d received from him when he first came to Heartland. They’ve shared an office and worked alongside each other for almost 30 years, and it was clear that Mr. Hall would have a hard time letting his partner in music go. 

Heartland’s vocal instructor, Mr. Lynn Hall, pays tribute to his long-time officemate.

“In Royce’s senior year, he was named first chair trumpet in the Nebraska All-State Band, and that’s a pretty big deal! It’s a handful of students from a school that small has ever been named first chair trumpet,” said Hall. He went on to tell the story of how Royce almost quit college his first year while at Hesston College and begged his father to let him come home and farm. 

Fortunately, his father made him stick it out, and he went on to finish his music education at the University of Nebraska, where he excelled. After graduation, his first teaching position was at Bruning, and after three years, in 1976, he took the band instructor job in Henderson. 

When it was Mr. Schweitzer’s turn to speak, he said, “I knew this would be difficult, and I want to thank you for this evening. I still think I have the same passion I had when I first came here in 1976, but I’m turning all these wonderful kids over to someone who is going to take great care of them.” 

Mr. Schweitzer was able to introduce from the large crowd his first band instructor from Schickley, Ken Mozer, the man he gave credit to for his long career in music education. “Ya know, I was not that great of a trumpet player, but you made me one, so thank you!” 

Photo credit Joann Haidle

The evening ended with the Jazz band belting out a great Lynard Skynard favorite, “Free Bird,” and a resounding standing ovation for Mr. Schweitzer. 

And as the lyrics go, “If I leave here tomorrow, Would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now ’cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see’. 

Yes, we will always remember our dear Mr. Royce Schweitzer, but he must travel on.