BELLE GLADE — When Willie and Estella Pyfrom started teaching at The Glades, the school was still segregated. The couple have dedicated their lives to educating children in western Palm Beach County and have been role models in every lesson and song there.
Now their name shines in the music hall of Glades Central High School.
Willie Pyfrom, 86, has been the school’s band director for 37 years. “I didn’t teach because I had to. I taught because I wanted to. I was happy to teach the best kids.”
Surrounded by his children, grandchildren and hundreds of former students, Pyfrom unveiled the silver letters on the brick wall of the music building on December 9th. Willie and Estella his pie from Bell He has taught at Grade High School for 40 years and in other classrooms in the county for about 60 years.
“It doesn’t get any better,” Willie said at the ceremony. Founder of Estella’s Brilliant Bus, Estella is a mobile her computer that serves students in rural and poorly connected areas of the county.In her lab, she died two years ago. .
“It’s something we’ve both been waiting for for a long time,” said youngest son Juan Piflom. “He was the first bandmaster with an integrated school and was there for the next 40 years.”
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New members of the band honored Willie with performances playing trumpets, drums and marching through the courtyard of Grays Central. Their student, Robert Mitchell, petitioned the county board of education to put their names on the building.
“Most of us don’t relate to them as teachers. I’m in. “They have many stepchildren.”
“Many of the principles and values they taught us have actually saved many of our lives,” he added.
Willie and Estella Pyfrom were born and raised in segregated Belle Glade in the 1940s.
He was raised by his grandmother and worked at her restaurant. Estella is the daughter of migrant farm workers and she began harvesting at the age of six. At that time Belglade was a separate town.
“It was just Jim Crow South,” said Juan, an attorney who owns a law firm in West Palm Beach. “Separate Everything”
At that time, the Grays were mainly inhabited by farm workers. Homes, hospitals and schools were quarantined.
Willie attended Belle Grade Elementary Colored School and graduated from Everglades Colored Vocational High School, becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school.
“I don’t know what color it was,” Willie said with a laugh. “It’s kind of funny now, but it used to be.”
He and Estella met and became lovers during the 11th and 9th grades of high school. They married in 1958 and soon had their first son, Jean.
“For me, the bean field was my playground,” Jean said. He watched his mother pick up rows of beans and peas during the day and study at night.
They were both first-generation students at Florida A&M University. Florida A&M University is a public black educational institution historically located in Tallahassee. Willie got a degree in music and Estella a degree in education. Willie played the trumpet and was in FAMU’s prestigious band, the Marching 100.
After graduating, he served two years in the Army, and in 1960 got his first job teaching music at East Lake Elementary School, a school for black students in Pahokee. Nine years later, Estella began working as a home economics teacher at the now-closed Sebring He E.O. Douglas High School.
In 1967, Lakeshore High School, the only black student in the area, hired Willie as music teacher and band director, and Estella joined him shortly thereafter. Became a teacher and a pillar of the community. Willie conducted the band and Estella coordinated the auxiliary.
A former Boy Scout, Willie said their goal was to prepare their students for life.
“My goal was to make sure my kids graduated,” Willie said. “And that they can hold their ground with anyone, especially in music.”
Music curriculum diversified after integration
School merged in the 1970-1971 school year. In Belle Glade, Lakeshore became an elementary school and black and white students attended what is now known as Glades Central High School.
America is not the America I grew up in. I am happy to live in America now.
Willie Pyfrom, longtime band director at Grays Central High School
“When the schools merged, I merged my curriculum,” Willie said. He added Jamaican, Puerto Rican and Cuban songs to his repertoire that reflected the student’s background. Soon, the couple had “stepchildren” of every color and nationality. Jean was part of the school’s first comprehensive graduation class. For the Pyfroms, their family picture had just grown and consolidated.
“America is not where I grew up,” said Willie. “I am happy to live in America now.”
Glades Central students participate in FAMU’s Marching 100
Grays Central quickly became known for producing football stars, and in its music hall Willie and Estella assembled some of the best musicians in the state. Their students describe them as easy-going, disciplined and structured educators.
For Mitchell, the Pyfroms coached, not taught.
He said Willie patiently sat down with each student, listened to them play, and found their musical strengths. bottom.
“You had the music and the ancillary element,” said Mitchell, who runs the nonprofit Mac City United. “But what he was teaching was life skills, affirmations.” One of Willie’s words he said every day was one Mitchell never forgot.
Mitchell was raised by a working single mother, so Willie was like a father figure to him.
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With Pyfroms at the helm, the band of Red Raiders became known for their excellence. Having won state and national competitions, the children have traveled to perform all over the country and abroad.
“We were like two peas in a pod,” Willie said, remembering years of rehearsals and performances with Estella.
Willie later earned the nickname “Godfather of Band Directors” because he taught most people to lead musical ensembles throughout the county and state. He learned the greatest honor of his career from an unexpected phone call in the early 2000s.
“Willie, did you know that every section leader in the FAMU band is from Grays Central?” Julian White, director of The Marching 100, asked him.
“You know you’re really right,” Willie replied quickly. “I know who sent you.”
Pastor of Gray’s Covenant Community Church, Pastor Kenneth Jackson Jr. learned to play the trumpet from Willie at the age of nine and led a band in high school.
“He insisted that you get the information he provided because it’s more important than the tests you have over the weekend,” he said. I did.”
He said Willie gave them the music to challenge them, constantly making revisions and encouraging the progression of every song until they were at their best.
“He developed a leader on another level,” Jackson said. “
The Pyfroms opened the door to the world of music and his future, Jackson said. He also attended FAMU, participated in the Marching 100, and became a music teacher at Lakeshore Elementary School. “If we work hard, we’ll be better than everyone else,” Jackson recalls Willie telling them in class.
Family and band are synonymous
The couple had four children during their nearly 70-year marriage. They all played with bands at Glade Central and later with The Marching 100.
Their youngest daughter, Mia Pyfrom, says family and band are synonymous to them. She remembers how involved her parents were with her students.
“Dad, if you go to him, he might try to talk to you about it,” she said. What can she do? Who does she know? And that’s kind of how they worked together.”
But music isn’t the only way children imitate their parents.
Mia teaches English at Indian Ridge School and her older sister Karen is the principal of Pahokee Elementary School. Jean has been a gymnastics coach in Leon County for many years, but she is now retired.
Estella has taught in several schools throughout the county, served on community committees, and started a food pantry program. When she retired, she used her $1 million in her savings to start her Estella’s Brilliant Bus. This is a mobile her computer lab that provides technology and internet connectivity to children in the poorest neighborhoods.
Her bus was a success. It was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show and received a grant from Microsoft. She and Willie were invited to dinner with President Barack Obama.
But Mia said nothing compares to seeing their name in Glade Central’s music hall. “It was a little surreal,” she said of seeing them recognized for years of service. “It was so surreal.”
For the Wille and Estella families, and all of their band’s children, the name commemorates an unforgettable era of musical and human excellence at The Glades.
“It’s like having a statue,” Jean said. “No matter what happens, whenever people walk by that school, Mom and Dad’s names are sure to appear on that building. So the legacy lives on.”
Valentina Palm covers Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, Loxahatchee and other western areas of Palm Beach County with The Palm Beach Post. Email email@example.com and follow @ValenPalmB on Twitter. Support local journalism: subscribe now.