By Christina Calloway
Nearly 40 angelic voices filled the room of the Council of Professors Emeriti building Friday on Eastern New Mexico University’s campus to sing for the one man who had inspired each of them in addition to generations of music students that have attended ENMU.
The singers, comprised of current and former students as well as ENMU faculty and friends, were there to say their goodbyes to former longtime ENMU professor Don Paschke.
Paschke has been in the Portales community for 51 years, 32 of which he dedicated to ENMU as an educator. Paschke will be leaving Portales to live in a retirement facility in Albuquerque.
“From the first moment I met (Paschke) in person, he’s been teaching me,” said ENMU University Choir Director Jason Paulk before he directed the crowd to sing.
Paschke said a few days after he retired from ENMU in 1994, his wife Helen suffered a stroke and he cared for her until her death in 2005. A special invitation from Paulk to join the University Choir brought him back to his feet and to an environment that gave him life again.
“That’s how I got back, it sort of kept me young,” Paschke said. “When I retired, I missed the contact with students. The choir let me mix with them and I’ve experienced nothing but kindness.”
A book was created for Paschke with photos and notes from current and former students as well as faculty and friends. In addition to teaching and singing in the choir, Paschke also reached students through a scholarship fund set up in he and his wife’s name in 1999.
“It’s not a sad thing, it’s a new adventure,” said ENMU Instructor of Music Kayla Paulk about Paschke leaving. “He’s an inspiration.”
Kayla Paulk was most impressed with Paschke’s commitment to music and bettering the lives of others around him when he decided to join the choir in 2005. Despite a long career in music, there were certain things Paschke experienced with ENMU’s choir that he hadn’t before.
“His first opportunity singing at Carnegie Hall was as an 82-year-old with the choir,” Kayla Paulk said.
Don Criss, a 70-year-old veteran of the armed services and a retired ENMU employee, was taught by Paschke in the 1960s.
“He taught me to sing songs in German, French and Italian. He’s always been very interested in the arts,” Criss said. “As a young man, (Paschke) was a wonderful man to look up to. He’s the perfect example of what a man should be. That’s probably the best thing a college professor could do besides being a voice teacher.”
Katie Merrill, a senior from Silver City, traveled with Paschke and the choir to Italy during the summer where she got to know him even better.
“He’s really experienced. He’s just done amazing things,” Merrill said. “He’s always telling stories; he’s always been motivational.”
Merrill has been singing in the choir for four years and said Paschke has been supportive of the students due to the bond they formed. Her fondest memory of him was during the Italy trip at dinner.
“He said when his wife passed away, the only thing that got him through was the choir,” Merrill said.
Paschke said his career highlight was when he was a sophomore at the University of Illinois and he got to sing “Figaro” from The Marriage of Figaro under the direction of famed English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.
But what he’ll miss the most now is the opportunity to be among students.
“If there’s something special, I’ll make an effort to come back.”