Gerald DePrisco, a respected high school music director in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan for decades — including 20 years at Central Catholic High School in Toledo — who also, off the job, directed other instrumental and vocal groups, died Tuesday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. He was 85.
He had pneumonia, his son David said.
Mr. DePrisco of South Toledo retired in 1992 from the Maumee City Schools. For more than a decade before that, he was at Whiteford High School.
He was “Mr. D” to some, “Mr. Music” to others. His tenure at Central Catholic, from 1955-75, brought wide acclaim. He directed the marching band — and wrote a new show for every football game — plus the concert band and the orchestra. His groups won high ratings in state music competitions. He directed the musicians for stage musicals besides and, during the summer, with Evelyne Weiher and Lynro Productions at the former State Theater.
And his marching band members had to memorize their music and formations week by week.
“It was kind of like you were in college,” said his daughter, Diane, who played clarinet under his direction in Central’s marching and concert bands and the orchestra.
“He was a perfectionist, and he was a great disciplinarian,” she said. “He would push you to your limit and get the best out of you.”
Mr. DePrisco was inducted into Central’s music department hall of fame in 1998. He said then that he couldn’t account for the success of the music programs at the school.
“But it seemed like the tougher I got and the [more] competitive it became for spots in the band or the glee club, the more students wanted to get in,” Mr. DePrisco told The Blade in 1998. “At one time, we had about one-third of the school involved in one kind or another. But I had kids that wanted to be good and were willing to work at it. And I always thought that the kids could do better, no matter how good they were. And there is no better feeling of walking away from a concert or a parade or a performance knowing we did the best we could possibly do, although I never told the kids that.”
He was charismatic and “had a way of making people be their best, because of that charisma he had. He brought it out in people,” said Dan Welch, a clarinet student of Mr. DePrisco as a sixth grader and his assistant band director at Central.
“That’s a gift. You can’t teach what he had,” said Mr. Welch, a professional musician who formerly was choir director at Waite High School and director of the Toledo Youth Jazz Ensemble. “It’s something people respected him for and loved him for.”
Mr. DePrisco, who played piano, drums, and clarinet, had his own orchestra that played at parties and events for decades. He directed the Central Catholic Alumni Glee Club and for 14 years, through 1997, was music director of the Toledo Swiss Singers.
He was former choir director of St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Church. He played piano in Big Band nights at the former Rusty’s Jazz Cafe. He was a member of the 555th Air National Guard Band for 20 years.
“What people appreciated so much about my dad is that it just wasn’t about the ability for him to play the songs — and he knew all the songs,” his son David said. “It was his ability to play the songs in the way that people loved to hear the songs that was so compelling. He knew the best way to translate music to others.”
He was born Jan. 2, 1928, to Amelia and Vincent DePrisco. His family owned downtown music stores for 75 years. He started to play the accordion at age 4.
He was a 1945 Central Catholic graduate. He received a bachelor of education degree from the University of Toledo and a master of music degree from Wayne State University in Detroit.
He was a golfer and played at Heather Downs and Brandywine country clubs.
He was formerly married to the late Barbara DePrisco, with whom he had three children.
Surviving are his daughter, Diane Jennings; sons, David and Daniel DePrisco, and two grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the Walter Funeral Home, with prayer services at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Church.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182.
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