Student finds inspriration in teacher's death

DeWayne Bartels

Mindy Watkins, in my humble opinion, has one of the finest singing voices in this city. But, as Watkins, 38, spoke about her former Richwoods High School teacher Wayne Macomber her voice cracked.

Macomber’s death Aug. 29, after a yearlong battle with cancer, caught Watkins off-guard. She did not realize her favorite high school teacher was ill. He taught vocal music and coached both boys and girls soccer at Richwoods and founded the Richwoods High School Madrigals.

After Watkins’ graduation from Richwoods in 1989, as with so many of us, obligations and dreams overwhelmed the need to stay in touch with her favorite teacher.

She headed to the University of Illinois to study piano and music. She was happy there until the day her phone rang and she was told her brother had died. With his death came the death of her playing the piano.

She could just not bring herself to go back to the black and white keys.

She left the U of I and headed to school in Denver.

After graduating in 1995, she came back to Peoria and sang with Opera Illinois.

“Then, in 1996, I got a wild hair and moved back to Denver and then San Francisco,” Watkins said.

She decided to make music her career, and seek a recording contract.

But, Sept. 11, 2001, changed her mind about seeking her dream in San Francisco.

“I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and I suddenly felt really far away from my family,” Watkins said. “I moved back.”

She has been singing here trying to garner attention. She’s been successful at that playing at open mic nights.

Watkins said she is glad to be back home.

“I was running away from things ... I think I’ve learned that sometimes resolution comes from stopping thinking about things.” Watkins said. “I came to accept that I was a Peoria girl. I’ve embraced being a Peoria girl.”

After all, she said, it was in Peoria she found her dream.

“I always remember singing. At six or seven I began performing at Concordia Lutheran School. They put so much emphasis on the arts,” Watkins said. “I always had opportunities for my talent to flourish. Peoria just has so many amazing music educators.”

Watkins said Macomber, in her view, was the dean of those amazing Peoria music educators.

“He’s the reason I got through high school,” she said. “He pushed me. He built my confidence. He helped me find confidence of my own. He gave me the opportunity.”

When she read of Macomber’s death, Watkins said it was a blow.

“I didn’t get the opportunity to tell him what an influence he had been,” she said, her voice cracking.

Macomber’s service included an invitation for his former students to sing in his honor. Watkins was among those who accepted the offer.

She took notes during the service. That added to a specific memory of Macomber led her to write the song, “A Date with an Angel.”

She recalled at the end of class Macomber would tinkle the keys of the piano in the classroom and say, “I have a date with an angel,” referring to his wife.

Watkins had not touched the piano since 1989 when her brother died. But, Macomber’s death brought her back to the piano.

“I wrote the song on the piano. I could not make sense of the piano until I wrote this song. Mr. Macomber inspired me again,” she said. “He gave me back the piano.”

On Sept. 30, Watkins will be performing at Johnny Vigs in the Metro Centre. “A Date With An Angel,” just might be in her repertoire.