The music master


OBSERVER Staff Writer

John Krestic’s life story could easily become a book. As Krestic explained, in nearly 99 years, there is a lot to remember.

An OBSERVER reader, Iva McClenathan, called suggesting a story be done about him. McClenathan knows him by reputation as having taught music at Silver Creek, and knows him personally from the Sheridan and Silver Creek senior citizens’ groups. She also knows that his 99th birthday is coming up on July 7.

“He did so much for Silver Creek,” she said. “He started the band at Silver Creek. Later his son taught. I thought it would make a good story.”

Graduating from Fredonia with a bachelor of science in 1937, Krestic received a master’s degree from Michigan State in 1951. He was an instrumental music teacher from 1937 to 1970, teaching in Silver Creek from 1937 to 1944, in Amherst from 1944 to 1969 and at SUNY Fredonia from 1969 to 1970.

In the hall near his quarters at Fredonia Place, there is a display of wooden models he made. These were made in his retirement. He wanted something to do, so he decided to try woodworking. Krestic stressed that these were not made from kits.

His son, John M. Krestic, who was visiting that day, joked with his dad, “You’ve been retired longer than you taught.”

John M. is also a retired music teacher who graduated from SUNY Fredonia. His son, also named John, graduated from the same college.

Krestic is also very proud of his daughter, Karen Krestic Ackerman, who did very well in school. She studied mathematics. She worked with computers, and then later went to law school.

This day, John M. brought a video of the elder Krestic’s great-grandson, Aaron Schuman, 17, performing on trumpet with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Apparently, a gift for music is hereditary.

“My son typed a list of things I did,” the elder Krestic said. The collection of accomplishments deal with his musical career as does most of his scrapbook.

The earliest thing he remembers is when his dad died. He was 4 at the time. His mother later remarried a man with two children. His mother and stepfather had three children of their own, so there were six children in the family.

His first instrument was the piano-accordion.

“I got dance jobs in homes,” he said. “Later, I met people who played in summer bands – that was a popular thing in those days – so I wanted another instrument.”

The clarinet became his instrument in high school.

He explained, “My mother gave me $25 and told me to go buy myself some clothes for school. I bought a clarinet in a pawn shop. I drove my mother nuts.”

Krestic did not take lessons. He taught himself to play the clarinet. He also taught himself how to read music.

“It seemed simple to me once I got the books that explained it,” he said.

In addition to his teaching, he directed many drum and bugle corps and the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas. These organizations won awards under his direction. He played clarinet professionally with the Carborundum Band over Columbia Radio Network.

Another group he directed, The Buffalo Bills Football Band, came about in an interesting way. Krestic explained that his Amherst Band played at the half-time show for a Bills game. The band was so successful that Krestic was asked if they could play every week. He felt it would be too much for his students, but had another idea.

“An ad was put in the paper for students who were interested in playing,” Krestic said. “I had students from 55 different schools in Western New York.”

Made up of select students, the band functioned from 1947 through 1951 performing 20-minute half-time shows. Majorettes were also an important part of the performances.

Krestic said his proudest accomplishment was his high school band at Amherst which was the best in the state. Indeed, under his direction, his bands won many awards through the years. An item in the Amherst Bee Retrospectives which ran on Feb. 23, 2006 reads “Feb. 23, 1956: Once again the Amherst Central School senior and junior bands brought honor to their school by winning four awards at the Great Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival last Saturday. It is a tribute to the musicanship and teaching ability of ability of John Krestic, head of the band department at Amherst Central High School.”

Krestic organized and served as first president of the Erie County Music Educators Association.

Besides his musical activities, he ran a photography business beginning when he taught at Silver Creek Central School. He said he liked photography and began developing pictures himself. He started a business which he ran in Fredonia, Dunkirk and Silver Creek.

“At the time I was making $25 a week teaching school,” he recalled. “On a good weekend, I could make $75 with my photography.”

He now plays bridge with other residents at Fredonia Place. When asked about that, he reached into his wallet and showed me a card from the American Contact Bridge League attesting that he is a “National Master.”

Krestic expressed surprise that he has lived this long. He doesn’t think he did anything special to ensure a long life.

“If I told you anything, it would be wrong so I will keep my mouth shut.”

When asked what he looks forward to, Krestic said he wants to see his late wife Helen again. She passed away in 2004, after they had been married for 68 years. Helen taught elementary school and, like her husband, enjoyed bridge.

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