In 1968, Carroll alumnus Randy Hopf '64 made the decision to join the United States Air Force Band. That decision came at the start of a career in music that provided him opportunities to play with Bob Hope, to entertain the Emperor of Japan, to perform for four U.S. Presidents and to travel the country and nearly every continent.
No matter how far he traveled, he always found his way back to Waukesha where it all began. It was here that he later became the conductor of the Waukesha Civic Band, a position from which he retired in the summer of 2019.
But, like any musician, Hopf started small, first picking up an instrument in elementary school. Hopf played his way through the Waukesha school system, and credits his time performing in these early years with inspiring him to pursue music as a career. And, like any student, Hopf had to make a decision after graduating high school.
Hopf’s mother was a single parent and money was tight, he said. When it came to choosing a college to continue his studies, Carroll College stood out. Not only was the campus close to his Waukesha home, but the institution also provided Hopf with a scholarship that allowed Hopf to pursue his passion.
As he walked around campus on a rainy August day, over 50 years later, Hopf reminisced on his time at Carroll. He pointed over to Shattuck and explained, “We [the music department] only had a small house down the hill.” He later continued, “There were practice rooms and a choir room, but the band had to practice in the [Stackner] ballroom.”
Hopf stated he didn’t mind the small size of his program. He enjoyed the close relationships such a program can offer. He thought fondly of professors such as piano teacher Phyllis Stringham and of visiting director, Milton Weber.
Hopf’s time at Carroll was merely a starting point for greater things. After graduating, he studied at Michigan State where he received his master’s degree, and performed and traveled with their band. It was after his time there that he left for the Air Force.
Hopf returned to Waukesha in 1972 where he passed on his love of music and taught students of all ages. However, years of teaching were not easy, especially having to spend extra nights and weekends playing at sporting events or training color guard. And so Hopf reached his limit and decided to take a break to travel. But he couldn’t stay away from performing and joined the Air Force band and began his travels around the world.
Hopf still reminisces about his time at Carroll. He thinks of the fun he had with his Phi Theta Pi fraternity brothers while living on campus. He laughed as he remembered the campus-wide parties and events that gave him an escape from his studies. Hopf has remained up to date with the happenings at Carroll. He is incredibly impressed with all the innovative renovations and constructions, especially the addition of the fine music hall, Shattuck. And he was thrilled to learn that high schools throughout the area use the space to perform.
His time spent here in Waukesha—learning, performing, and teaching—earned him a key to the city.
“I haven’t found anything it opens yet,” Hopf joked. “I will keep you updated.”