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Professor Emeritus Gary Tirey Passes

April 04, 2017
Otterbein University

Gary R. Tirey, age 76, died Saturday, April 1, 2017, at home with family by his side. He leaves a lasting legacy of music and memories at Otterbein.

“Gary was a great guy and touched the lives of students, faculty staff and alumni through many generations,” said President Emeritus Brent DeVore.

“It is the passing of another legendary Otterbein giant,” said President Emeritus Thomas Kerr.

A native of Anna, Ohio, Tirey received his bachelor’s degree in voice and tuba from Capital University and his master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago.

He joined the faculty at Otterbein in 1968, teaching music-education classes, directing the marching and concert bands, and giving tuba lessons. When Tirey was hired, the Westerville college had fewer than 50 music majors and only a marching and concert band. By 2006, Otterbein had more than 150 music majors and five bands or ensembles, three of which Tirey founded: the pep band, jazz band and wind ensemble.

When he arrived in the Quiet, Peaceful Village, the band program was on its last legs. He rebuilt the program by setting high standards and pushing the students to achieve them. He expanded the Marching Band by adding the drill team and the dance squad. He took the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble on tour all over the country to recruit new students for the program. 

“Gary was a good man,” said Bob Gatti, vice president for student affairs. “He built a great program with limited resources. I had the pleasure to sit with him on the team bench to watch the last halftime show of last year.”

In the 1970s, Tirey started the first Jazz Band, and in the 1980s (with the help of President DeVore) he brought back the traditional Christmas Tree Lighting celebration. He began the tradition of band tours to Europe, taking several trips to Great Britain, and others to France and Italy. Otterbein’s Marching Band played halftime shows for professional football teams including the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. 

On April 2, 2006, 135 former band members performed a tribute concert for Tirey, filling Cowan Hall to capacity. The college has created the Gary R. Tirey Endowed Award in Music to support an outstanding student each year.

He retired on July 20, 2006, after 38 years of service to Otterbein and was named Professor Emeritus of Tuba and Director of Instrumental Music. He was also named an honorary alumnus of Otterbein University.

Upon his retirement, then-chair of the Department of Music Craig Johnson said, “Gary’s made a tremendous contribution to Otterbein. He’s had a huge impact on the Department of Music, and his influence is strong through generations of alumni. He also enjoys a high profile in the wider musical community, and he will be very missed.”

Outside of Otterbein, Tirey was a founding member of the Brass Band of Columbus, he was the choir director at Church of the Master for 44 years, and he was the founder and long-time conductor of Merry Tuba Christmas Columbus. In 1982, he was named by Governor James Rhodes as chairman of Merry Tuba Christmas Columbus. He was constantly in demand as a tuba player because of his expert sight-reading skills, and he subbed for groups all over central Ohio including the Columbus Symphony and the TubaShop Quartet.

“Professor Tirey was a monumental personality, and alumni love to share the stories about him,” said Otterbein Archivist Stephen Grinch, a former student of Tirey. “In band rehearsals at Otterbein, Professor Tirey was known to say ‘In a perfect world, where I live...’ followed by an explanation of what he wanted from the ensemble. Unfortunately, the door to that perfect world has closed, but we will forever remember the man who took us there.”

Tirey was an active member of the Columbus Federation of Musicians, the Ohio Music Educators Association (OMEA), and MENC: the National Association for Music Education. He held several leadership positions within the OMEA, served as regional student advisor to MENC, and was a past president of Phi Beta Mu, an honorary fraternity for band directors. He loved to travel, especially with family, reading and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

He will be dearly missed by his wife of 53 years, Gretchen (Kessler) Tirey; his daughter and son-in-law, Paige and Tony Zilincik; his son and daughter-in-law, Josh and Danielle Tirey; beloved grandchildren, Rachael, Sophia and Declan. Also survived by a brother, James Tirey; several nieces and nephews; other relatives and many friends and students.

Friends may call from 2-4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5 at Schoedinger Midtown Chapel, 229 East State St., Columbus. Then from 10- 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 6, at Christ Lutheran Church, 2314 E. Main St., Bexley, where funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. that day. Contributions in Gary R. Tirey's memory may be made to Otterbein University Music Department Gary R. Tirey Endowment Fund, Attn: Candace Brady, c/o Otterbein University, 1 South Grove St., Westerville, OH 43081 or to the Chancel Choir, Church of the Master United Methodist, 24 North Grove St., Westerville, OH 43081 or to the Organ Fund of Christ Lutheran Church. More information.

If you have memories to share, please email sgrinch@otterbein.edu. 

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