LEHMAN TWP. — Lake-Lehman High School Band instructor, the late John J. Miliauskas Jr., was strict and disciplined, but also taught life lessons and inspired loyalty. Just ask any of his former students.
Alumni converged on the rural district June 23 to pay tribute to the man who put the school district on the map through competitions and performances that earned the band accolades in state, international and national levels, according to Patrick Stanley, the district’s elementary music teacher.
“He used music to teach us to be better people,” Scott Brown, a trombonist with the Lake-Lehman High School Band from 1983 to 1990, said about Miliauskas.
“He was one of my most influential teachers,” Melissa Jones, a clarinet player with the band from 1982 to 1987, said. “He taught the life lessons of hard work, teamwork and dedication.”
Miliauskas passed away Saturday, June 16, at the Barbara J. Egan Nursing Home in Shrewsbury. He was 88.
He is survived by son, John Miliauskas III, Glen Rock, his wife, Sarah, and their children, Ava and Ella; son, Jim Miliauskas, Johnstown, his wife, Rene, and their children, Jimmy, Matthew and Julie; daughter, Nancy Gillespie, Langhorne, her husband, Gregory, and their children, Gregory Jr. and Riley; and daughter, Debbie Henderson, Galena, Ohio, her husband, Nick, and their children, Alexandria, Gabrielle and Nicholas Jr.
His passing inspired former students to attend funeral services at the Lake-Lehman High School auditorium.
Jones and Brian Kinney, who played the trumpet in the band in the 1970s and 1980s, saw vehicles with license plates from many different states.
“We were a family — the whole band,” Kinney said. “We lost together, won together, cried and celebrated together. That is what made him so special. That is why there were license plates from all over the country at the services.”
Be your best
Miliauskas came to Lake-Lehman School District after serving with the U.S. Army where he directed several military bands during the Korean Conflict, according to a biography on the Lake-Lehman School District’s Knights of the Round Table website.
He demanded his students to strive to be the “best they could be.”
“He was very strict,” said Virginia Ide, who played the glockenspiel in the band from 1964 to 1970. “But you were proud to be part of the band.”
He expected band members to practice at home for 45 minutes a day, attend band practice daily and rehearsals at least once a week, Kinney said.
“Many students also took private lessons from him,” Kinney said. “It took a tremendous amount of time, but he taught us that you have to put in the time to succeed.”
On days Kinney was not prepared for his private lesson, he recalled wishing his parents’ vehicle would break down so he would not have to go to Miliauskas’ house.
“I remember walking into his house and going into the basement to wait on the couch for the person in front of me to finish,” Kinney said. “At the end of the lesson, Miliauskas would greet the next student by saying ‘next victim.’”
Miliauskas was not a quiet person and expected his students to be focused on the task at hand, Brown said.
If you were not paying attention, you could experience one of the four levels of Miliauskas, Brown said.
“He would yell at you in English,” Brown said. “The second level was him yelling in English and Lithuanian; and by the fourth level, you were being yelled at in English, Lithuanian and Korean. It would make you confused because you didn’t understand him.”
Years later, Brown asked Miliauskas what he was saying when he spoke in Korean.
“He said he yelled grocery names and numbers,” Brown said, laughing.
Miliauskas was also willing to offer positive reinforcement for a job well done.
Ide, Brown, Kinney and Jones all said Miliauskas also was just as supportive and did not hold back on telling the band when it did a great job.
Ide recalled after winning the Sherburne Pageant of Bands in New York, Miliauskas boarded the band bus and said, “I am so proud of you.”
Under Miliauskas’ direction, the Lake-Lehman Band earned top honors in all categories at the Sherburne Pageant of Bands, first place honors at the Six Flags Festival of Music Parade in Atlanta, Georgia, over a 28 year period.
Whether it was playing at a national competition or in a community parade, “he expected you to be at your best,” Ide said of the former band director.
Stanley was never in Miliauskas’ band, but the teacher’s skill and the band’s reputation are legendary.
“John put Lake-Lehman on the map,” he said. “He is the reason I came here. I am originally from Lehigh Valley.”
After retiring in 1989, Miliauskas continued to keep tabs on the district’s music program and frequently attended band practices as well as the spring and winter concerts, Stanley said.
“He would walk right onto the field during practice and ask how things were going and note the band was not as big as it once was,” Stanley said, noting prior bands consisted of up to 150 students.
His first several encounters with Miliauskas were “intimidating.”
“He was a walking legend and commanded a certain amount of respect,” Stanley said.
Stanley found the district had “three or four records” of band concerts in the late 1970s and 1980s.
“There were amazing sounds coming from the high school band,” Stanley said. “I hope to leave half the legacy he did.”
Stanley wants to have an original composition written to honor Miliauskas.
“I discussed the idea with his son,” Stanley said. “We have some ideas.”
Miliauskas was inducted into the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Hall of Fame.
At a Lake-Lehman Band Reunion in 2012, his former students came together to honor the man who taught them the value of hard work.
“We named the road between Lehman-Jackson Elementary School and the high school after him,” Ide said.