ALPHARETTA, Ga. — On Saturday, Oct. 5, Leon Cole, former band director at Milton High School, was greeted with a standing ovation on his 80th birthday by a hundred of his past students.
And Cole certainly deserved it — both the birthday celebration and the standing ovation.
Donald Kell, the organizer of the celebration, said that the party was “something [the alumni] wanted to do for Mr. Cole for keeping us together all these years.”
The group of past band members had been having regular reunions for years, but when it was pointed out that Cole’s birthday was coming up, Kell and Mark Broyles stepped up to the plate to organize a celebration.
They reached out to the band’s alumni through Facebook, starting a page for the event, and were flooded with responses.
“When I started receiving responses from this Evite that I sent out, it was overwhelming,” said Kell, adding that he received RSVPs from people all over the world, from Amsterdam to Saudi Arabia.
Kell then told the story of how he first met Cole. Kell said that when he was struggling with his academics, he was approached by Cole one day and told that he would be in the band next semester.
Cole then took him to the band room to have him pick out an instrument (the baritone sax), and also to tell him that he would, in addition to playing in the band, be Cole’s teacher’s aide for the advanced band during sixth period. From there, Kell immersed himself in the band, which gave him the opportunities and motivation to succeed in the rest of his high school career.
Kell, decades later, asked Mr. Cole why he did what he did. Cole’s response: “I had decided that I was going to help somebody.”
Kell added that he found out later that he was “one of hundreds that he did stuff like that for.”
“He’s a great guy to honor,” said Kell. “I just think that he’s got to be one of the greatest teachers that the world has ever seen.”
During the party, Cole expressed his gratitude to those he once taught.
“This isn’t about Milton High School. This is about family, and we’re all a family,” he said, a sentiment that was echoed by all those attending.