William Eugene Hamberger
1924 - 2000
William (Bill) Hamberger taught voice and directed choirs at an elementary school, three high schools, and a university during his career. An admired and beloved teacher throughout his career, he was named Teacher of the Year for the 1982-1983 school year.
Hamberger, born in La Grange, Ohio, began his music study on violin. By the time he was in the fourth grade, he had become proficient enough that he was invited to play in the high school orchestra.
He attended both public and church schools until his last two years of high school, which he completed at Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio, serving as vice-president of his senior class. Immediately upon graduation in 1942, he was inducted into the armed services and, for the next three years, served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.
Hamberger enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, in 1946 as a religion major and then changed to music, following a talk to the returning GIs by Edwin R. Thiele, chair of the theology department, and a subsequent visit with him. While at EMC, he married Ruth Helen Wagner in 1949. Following completion of his degree in 1951, when he was honored with a listing in Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, he began teaching at the high school in Hartford, Michigan, as choir director.
At the end of three years at HHS, Hamberger accepted a position at the high school in Watervliet, Michigan, where he taught for the next sixteen years. Years later, a student from that time would write about how working with him to make "the singing good, but fun" had been a memory that "has followed me throughout my adult life." While teaching at WHS, Hamberger also conducted the Plymouth Congregational Church choir.
In 1970, Hamberger began twenty years of service as choir director at the Niles, Michigan, high school. While there, he started a series of acclaimed annual musicals, which attracted large audiences drawn from Niles and the surrounding region. His Christmas programs were popular, given in differing places in the immediate and nearby communities, and became a seasonal tradition on channel 28 in Elkhart, Indiana.
He organized and directed the first handbell choir at Niles High School as well as a show choir, The Counterpoints. Both were hits with both the participants and audiences. They traveled to Florida during spring breaks and on one year's trip were invited to perform at Disney World.
One of his students, Beth Freas Hutter, later wrote:
I had Mr. Hamberger for three classes out of my day, Counterpoints, Handbell Choir, and Concert Choir. I remember how he treated his students almost as if they were extended family, looking out for us as if we were his own children. He was a teacher, a mentor, and a friend, and I will always remember him with love and admiration.
Hamberger also taught for three years at Western Michigan University, where he directed two 200-member choirs and for three years at Niles Westside Elementary School where he also directed a handbell choir. Both Bill and Ruth completed master's degrees at Western Michigan University. It was during this time that a voice teacher convinced him he was really a tenor, not a baritone, and then assisted him in the transition.
In 1987-88, Niles Community Schools presented him an achievement award for his continued work beyond a master's degree. And, in 1998, the governor sent Hamberger a congratulatory letter for his achievements with The Counterpoints, when they were invited to participate in the Young Americans National Invitational Performance Choir Festival in Pasadena, California.
Having had been a member of the EMC Collegians, a select choir, while in college, in 1983 Hamberger organized a 25-year reunion of the group which had been founded by Melvin Davis, honored guest for the event. Hamberger and several former directors conducted it in performances during the AU Pioneer Memorial Church service and at a program that afternoon. A few years before he retired, he started a handbell choir at PMC and then directed it for the next fifteen years.
Sources: Life Sketch and Tributes for William E. Hamberger, unknown source; email from Dwight Rhodes, 19 October 2007; Letter from Ruth Hamberger to Dwight Rhodes, 22 January 2008.