When Elaine Egdorf, chairwoman of the Homewood Heritage Committee, asked all former students of William Luke to raise their hands, half the people in the banquet hall at Calumet Country Club did so.
The occasion was the 2014 Homewood Hall of Fame induction luncheon Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, and Luke was one of five local residents being honored for his contributions to the community.
Luke died on Aug. 16. A memorial visitation is set for Saturday, Aug. 26, 2 to 9 p.m. at the Tews Ryan Funeral Home, 18230 Dixie Highway in Homewood. A memorial service will be held Sunday, Aug. 27, at 2 p.m. at St. Paul Community Church, 18200 S. Dixie Highway in Homewood.
Those hands in the air at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony were evidence of the long-time music teacher's influence on and inspiration for generations of Homewood school students and the community.
Robert Lucas, a member of the Heritage Committee at the time, outlined Luke's long career and accomplishments and said the teacher's influence is still being felt.
"Because of his years of devoted instruction, Homewood has been recognized for its high standard of musical culture," Lucas said. "Mr. Luke provided an inspiration to his students through his enthusiastic and encouraging instruction, leading many of his students to follow his passion and love of music."
He was a graduate of DePaul University with a double master’s degree in voice and music. He studied in Europe at the Orff Institute in Austria and at the University of London.
Luke joined the Homewood District 153 faculty in 1950, and he spent the following decades creating new programs and opportunities for student musicians, according to Lucas. He retired from the district after 39 years as a teacher and director of music.
Luke is credited with enhancing the vocal music programs in the district and for reviving the dormant instrumental music program in 1954, Lucas said. Also in 1954, he helped start the Parent Music Association. Today it is the oldest continuous middle school parents music support group in the state. Currently it has 143 members.
The school programs served to enrich the community, too, Lucas said.
"In 1961, Mr. Luke introduced the Homewood community to works of Gilbert and Sullivan by having students at James Hart school perform 'HMS Pinafore,'" Lucas said. "Prior to this production, District 153 had never put on a musical, let alone an operetta."
The tradition of presenting Gilbert and Sullivan shows continued for a number of years, supported in part by field trips to professional productions in Chicago.
"The productions that we students presented to the public were totally from the original scores," Lucas said. "They were not simplified children's adaptations."
Adrienne Olsen, choral director for District 153, says each year she brings out a recording of Hart’s Panther Choir from 1960 to 1989, years Luke was director. She has her students listen “so they realize what a quality music program District 153 has always had because of their first music teacher – Mr. Luke.”
Luke was active and influential in church music for many years. He started Singfest in the 1960s, a program that brought area church choirs together for nearly 50 years.
And in 1998, Luke initiated the William Luke Achievement Award for an outstanding 8th grader in the music program.
"It's been a great pleasure to work with Homewood public schools," Luke said upon receiving a plaque marking his induction in the Hall of Fame. "I'm getting all the credit for it, but these were gifted people. There's lots of good teachers. I was fortunate they came here."