Local News

Gustat band fund continues music legacy

The Gustat music legacy in Highlands County continues with the Paul J. Gustat Band Fund that will begin offering scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year at Sebring High School, with plans to expand to Avon Park and Lake Placid high schools.

John Gustat, Paul Gustat’s eldest son, said the fund will provide “need-based scholarships” to musically-inclined students to offset the pay-to-play costs in Highlands County schools.

The fund began with the death of Paul J. Gustat, Sebring High School’s former band director of 36 years, on Oct. 17, 2013. In lieu of flowers at his funeral, the family requested donations to the fund. Paul followed in the footsteps of his father, Peter J “Prof” Gustat, who founded the Sebring band program in 1927.

“It is this family legacy that the fund seeks to memorialize,” John said.

The fund has a commitment of $10,000 over eight years from a member of the extended Gustat family, Stephen and Tammy James of Atlanta, John noted. In addition, Paul’s widow, Merrilou K. “Skee” Gustat, has offered $1,000 to kick off the community-wide fund raising campaign. The James’ provided a matching grant of $1,000 to Mrs. Gustat’s pledge.

Sebring High band parent Deborah Wolf said, the Sebring High Band Booster Association’s long-term goal is to help continue the music legacy that the Gustat family created and build enough community support for the band program so that no student would have financial dues or that a child cannot participate because the financial costs are a burden on their family.

Wolf is vice president and her husband, Mark, is president of the Sebring High Band Boosters.

Their daughter, Rachel, who is a senior, was the drum major this year for the Spirit of Sebring Marching Band.

“We have been fund raising for quite a bit to help with the expenses that the band program has,” she said. “It’s actually quite expensive considering all the expenses.”

The band’s web page notes that student fees pay for bus fees, uniform rental and maintenance, music, guard equipment, drum heads, competition fees, cost for trailer transportation, snacks, water and many other operating costs.

Wind instrument players who march with their own instrument have dues of $200 for the fall season. Members of the guard, percussion or those using a school horn will have dues of $260 for the season, according to the band’s web page.

The boosters raise about $5,000 a year to help support the band, Wolf said. The boosters haul the band’s trailer to the competitions, which could be over 100 miles and pay for trailer repairs.

“The former students who benefited from the Gustats’ legacy live, work and play in our community,” she said. The band boosters hope these former students will support the new generations of students grow musically by helping remove the financial barrier.

John noted that tax-deductible donations can be made anytime and should be directed to the School Board of Highlands County Accounting Manager Robert Perry at 426 School Street, Sebring, 33870.

The operating guideline for donations is to spend up to one-half of the annual donations on the community’s students while saving the remainder to build the endowment base, he said. “It is fervently hoped that at some future point, this base can generate ample dividends to further enhance the number of scholarships available.”


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