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‘Music man’ of West Pasco retiring

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Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2014 at 01:01 PM

NEW PORT RICHEY — Much has changed since 1973 when President Richard Nixon started a second term, “The Godfather” won the Best Picture Oscar and Watergate hearings in the courts and Congress were heating up.

However, time could not dim Henry Fletcher’s enthusiasm and passion for music. It was during that turbulent era when Fletcher, at the tender age of 27, began more than four decades of service to the music program at First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey.

Now the congregation is paying tribute to its “music man” with a retirement party Sunday for their music director since 1973. Fletcher is warming up his trumpet to play a few tunes himself and join his many musician pals.

Fletcher, 69, decided it was time to pass the torch as director of music for the venerable church at 5901 Indiana Ave. However, he intends to keep right on playing with the Richey Concert Band and pursue his many other hobbies and interests.

“I moved here to teach school,” Fletcher said. In 1972 he started at Elfers Elementary School, now known as Mittye P. Locke Elementary.

“I stayed there my whole career,” Fletcher said about his 28 years as music director. “I was enthralled with the place.”

“I have 10 people at least in Richey Concert Band that started with me at Locke Elementary and still play,” Fletcher proudly pointed out. “That really thrills me.” In fact, three generations of one family perform in the band.

He watched one of his protégés, Ruthie Vaughn, grow up from a kindergartener to married woman Ruthie Nelson. “I still go to hear her all the other the place,” Fletcher said. She will be singing at the tribute tomorrow.

“It’s a pretty amazing career he’s had serving this community,” the Rev. Betty Batey, pastor of First United Methodist, said about Fletcher.

“Henry is one of these amazing people,” very compassionate and forgiving, Batey added.

Fletcher is the “Music Man for the community,” Batey remarked, referring to the 1962 movie musical. He had discovered he was a gifted piano and trumpet player by ear at a young age.

Fletcher has directed Richey Concert Band for almost 42 years. The band grew from 25 players to more than 85 during his tenure. The band plays concerts at River Ridge and Sims Park.

He formed, directed and wrote all the music for the semi-professional Silver Cornet Band, which performed all around the Pasco County in the 1980s, according to a brief biography on the church website.

Fletcher played lead trumpet in the “pit” orchestra at the Richey Suncoast Theater for more than 20 years. He also played at what is now the Straz Center, in Tampa, and the former Bayfront Center, in St. Petersburg,/ for the original Broadway casts of “West Side Story” and “Forty-Second Street,” to name a few.

He directed and arranged music for the all-men chorus Jubilee Singers from 1999 to 2010, and the Thursday Musicale from 2002 to 2010.

He was also named Teacher Of The Year at Locke Elementary in 1992. He was given the key to the city of New Port Richey for outstanding community service in 1993. Most recently, he received a Community Service Award from the DAR on March 30.

But that’s not all, according to Jeff Miller, a board member of the West Pasco Historical Society. Far from it, Miller reports.

“Fortunately for us, among Henry’s many interests is local picture post cards,” Miller wrote in an email. “He also collects other topics such as Florida Methodist churches and sheet music.”

During the past seven years or so, Fletcher has given the historical society, at no charge, high resolution scans of more than 500 old local photos that he had bought, Miller said. Fletcher probably spent thousands of dollars on the project.

One postcard shows New Port Richey’s movie star, Thomas Meighan, visiting town in the 1920s.

Fletcher also helped digitize weekly New Port Richey Press newspapers from 1919 to the mid-1960s so they could be shared over the Internet. “He also helped us digitize an old short silent movie we have showing the Hacienda which is on 16mm film, as he still owns a film projector,” Miller said.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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