By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
WASECA — Teachers foster learning with textbook examples.
And sometimes, they become textbook examples themselves.
Richard “Butch” Dufault was Exhibit A of what a good teacher should be, friends and former students say.
As a music instructor and band leader at Waseca High School until the mid-1990s, his teaching went well beyond drilling kids on the rote steps and tunesmithing required of a marching and field-performance band.
His former parent-volunteer helpmate Joe Fritz said Dufault, who died Sunday at age 71, was a master at using constructive peer pressure to steer students toward his mission.
“He got kids to buy in, and with 150 kids, that takes a lot of work.”
Fritz said he did this by appealing to their desire to do well — an appeal that would start from the get-go at 7 a.m. when band members reported to the football field for practice.
Fritz said Dufault would shower them with encouragement and, when necessary, lay some tough love on those who were slacking.
“He’d pick out a kid and get in his face — almost bull charge at the kid — and say, ‘Do you really want to be here?’ ”
It was a lesson not lost on the teen’s bandmates. Ditto for early-morning sessions in the school band room.
Former student Rachael Hanel said Dufault was a stickler for punctuality, to the point that if practice was at 7 a.m., he’d lock the door a few seconds later and force any stragglers to stay out until he was ready to admit them.
“He kept them out long enough to teach them a lesson,” Hanel said. “When they came in, everyone would be staring at them.”
It was another example of Dufault using students’ peers to effectively deliver a teaching punch.
Dufault’s skills at instilling strong work ethics, goal-setting and working together for a common cause paid off on the performance field.
His bands were regarded as among the best in the Upper Midwest, and in 1990 the Waseca High Band performed at the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix.
“He was all about the experience for the kids,” Fritz said. “He worked hard at producing a show and product that demanded from the kids everything they could give.”
Fritz said Dufault knew how to put students in positions that allowed them to flourish. Moreover, he made sure everyone connected with the program received their due.
Fritz said as a volunteer helper he essentially served as a cheerleader, a minor role that Dufault did not allow to go unnoticed.
“He made me feel like I was a contributor, and he always found a way to tell you that.”
Dufault’s pastor, the Rev. Cary Larson of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, said Dufault, a founding member of the 3-year-old congregation, was a principled man possessing the courage of his convictions.
“He didn’t do things for popularity’s sake. He was just a man of integrity. He didn’t round corners, and we don’t see that too often.
“It was important for him to take a stand and be judged according to that stand. But it wasn’t so much about him having his way ... he always had the bigger picture in mind.”
Deb Wantoch-Yess, the choir director at Waseca High School, taught with Dufault for 11 years. She said if it hadn’t been for Dufault’s encouraging words, she likely would have resigned after her first year of teaching.
She said she didn’t think teaching was for her, but Dufault, always looking at the bigger picture, allayed her concerns.
“He just said, ‘This too shall pass. Just give it one more year.’ He was super, super encouraging.”
It’s also worth noting she chose Dufault to be godfather to her sons.