Scholarships: Former Oshkosh music man Fred Leist Continues to Inspire Dreams with Scholarship Fund

Making His Mark in Music: Some people have a gift for sharing their passion with others in such a way that they leave a lasting impression on their lives.

Fred Leist is one of those people.

"He was such an important mentor to all of us, whatever endeavor we decided to go into," says Steve Verhoeven, an Oshkosh High School graduate who was Fred's student in the 1970s. "We tried to emulate and use his approach to discipline, commitment and excellence. He was our Vince Lombardi of music."

In 1998, Leist had an idea to start a Scholarship Fund that would not only share his passion for music, but support his students' dreams. The fund was started with proceeds from record sales by the high school choir. Those dollars were matched by former student Mary Brey Sharp.

Donate to the Fred Leist Music Scholarship Fund

"This music scholarship was made possible by the singing of several thousand Oshkosh students who were members of the Oshkosh High School Acapella choirs between the years of 1946 to 1974," says Leist, who now lives with his daughter, Sue Wilson, in the Madison area.

"Recordings were purchased by parents and friends, and the scholarship included donations by many of the choir graduates over the years. The CDs are still available at a local store, Apple Blossom Books, and continue to benefit the fund."

(Apple Blossom Books has closed since this article was published. If you have information on where people can purchase/acquire a CD, please contact the Foundation.)

At the age of 96, few details of the past escape Leist.

As a youngster, he would steal his father's saxophone to teach himself how to play. By the time he became a teacher, he knew how to play every instrument in the band. His teaching career began in 1938 in Algoma where he was band and choir director for four years. He moved with his wife to Oshkosh in 1942 to take a job as Oshkosh High School's band director.

He was a teacher there for 36 years, directing both the band and choir initially, and later focusing on the high school's choral program. He started an Acapella group, which was ranked nationally. Some of his students went on to have professional music careers.

"I like to have kids who I have had in class tell me, years later, how much they love music as a result of their participation in the high school band and choir," says Leist. The bond with his former students is still strong. Many continue to pay visits and send cards.

Verhoeven has kept in touch with his music mentor for more than 40 years through phone calls, visits or special deliveries of turtle sundaes from Leon's Frozen Custard in Oshkosh.

"He is a true gentleman's gentleman," says Verhoeven. "He is kind-hearted, interested in many facets of life, and can converse on many different areas of interest. It's an honor to be in his presence."

In a time where choir and band were in their heyday, Leist led students to new heights. While no longer in the classroom, he hopes the scholarship fund will continue to help students build their dreams in music.

"I think that education and music brightens the life of anybody that lives," says Leist.

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