This month, in honor of Veterans Day, we are pleased to honor a local veteran and a veteran of the Franklin Lakes School system, Mr. Bill Gorton.
Mr. Gorton was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in Elmwood Park, where he attended Memorial High School. Growing up he played on various sports teams, but during his high school years he became very involved in music. He had a passion for playing the drums and especially enjoyed the drum and bugle corps. He graduated high school in 1965 and was accepted into the new Music Education Program at William Paterson University, which was known as Paterson State Teachers College. Mr. Gorton majored in percussion with a minor in orchestral studies.
The late 60’s were a time of great turmoil in our country. The country was heavily involved in the Vietnam War. All males over the age of 18 were required to register with the draft board for possible military service. There were different classifications assigned to each person, college students possessed a student deferment, classification 2S. In June of 1969, Mr. Gorton graduated with his BA in Music Education and was reclassified as a 1A with the draft board.
Now eligible to be drafted into the military service, he received his notice to report to Newark, NJ for processing. There was a draft lottery in place using a birthday system. His birthday, August 10th, was number eight on the selection priority list making him a prime candidate to enter the military draft. He enlisted for three years in the Army, and his active duty would begin July 1969.
Mr. Gorton immediately began researching his military possibilities and came across a publication about the opportunities that existed as a musician in the Army. The publication spoke about bands stationed throughout the world and also highlighted a special band, “The Old Guard”. The Old Guard was stationed both in Washington, DC and at The United States Military Academy at West Point. Mr. Gorton arranged for an audition at West Point and was later offered a position in the Field Music Detachment of the band, better know as The Hellcats.
Further research informed Mr. Gorton that the Hellcats enjoyed a long history with the US Military. He would be joining an ensemble comprised of buglers and rudimental drummers from the West Point Band. They had played an influential role for almost 200 years, a strong musical tradition at The United States Military Academy.
Mr. Gorton was intrigued and agreed to join the Hellcats. After completing Army Basic Training at Fort Dix, NJ, Mr. Gorton reported to the United States Military Academy. His daily duties began at 6:00 a.m. with the sounding of Reveille and Retreat at the garrison flagpole. Band practice and duties continued throughout the day, rain or shine, snow or sleet.
Additionally, the Hellcats performed in a myriad of ceremonial functions, including military reviews and parades. Mr. Gorton was proud to march as a Hellcat in the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and remembers always ending up behind the Clysdale horses. During football season, the Hellcat arrangements of traditional West Point gridiron songs fanned the Army fighting spirit.
Hellcat buglers and drummers also have the honorable task of performing muffled drums and Taps for West Point funerals. This duty sticks out in Mr. Gorton’s mind and brings him back to those somber days. Sadly, there was a voluminous amount of military funerals that he participated in during his time at West Point. Although his duty did not require that he go overseas or be stationed in a combat zone, during these funerals he witnessed the brutal effect of war.
Mr. Gorton said, “Draping our drums in black and playing the long muffled roll as the bugler played taps and the rifle squad salute, seeing the American Flag folded and presented to family members, these are images that are still very vivid in my mind and heart. I was so very lucky to have been part of the West Point Band, and for that to be my active duty assignment. I often think back and try to imagine what life would have been like might I not have been so fortunate.”
In 1972, preparing to re-enter the civilian workforce, Mr. Gorton submitted an application to the Franklin Lakes Public Schools. He was offered a contract to be a music teacher for the district. His initial job description was to teach orchestral instruments at all four schools and specifically to develop the choral program at FAMS.
Travelling to all four schools was a challenge, but through many activities he was able to get to know the music students and many others from the general student population. He was excited about his new position and wanted to get involved with as many school and community activities as possible.
Mr. Gorton decided to continue his education and received an MA in Music Education and Supervision from Teachers College Columbia University in 1981. In 1984, he was assigned full time to Franklin Avenue Middle School (FAMS). He was responsible for the band, the orchestra, the chorus, the jazz band and instrumental group lessons. His talent with music and children elevated him to coordinating the annual FAMS Talent Show and directing the Eighth Grade Play.
In addition to his day job, he was Ski Club Advisor; an original member of the Municipal Alliance; the Peer Group Coordinator; the Director and Organizer for The Frost Valley Outdoor Education Program and The Bergen County Teen Arts Coordinator. He has fond memories of chaperoning a group of 20 FAMS students to Bognor Regis, England and hosting the British Exchange Program. Mr. Gorton wore so many hats and has so many great memories of those days at FAMS.
In addition to teaching and extra activities, Mr. Gorton himself became a student once again. He attended Montclair University and obtained a certification for Student Personnel Services, also known as a Guidance Counselor Certification. And soon added to his responsibilities, a one day a week assignment to the counseling department.
In the 1995-1996 school years, due to construction, the students and teachers were teaching and learning out of boxes. FAMS had temporarily moved into Colonial Road School. Mr. Gorton recalls teaching music on the stage while there were gym classes going on and he recalls it being a real challenge. But it was worth it and in 1996 there was an official opening of the grade 6-7-8 Franklin Avenue Middle School. This was quite exciting for the students and the teachers and for Mr. Gorton’s his job description changed again to that of full time guidance counselor. He served in that position until his retirement on December 30, 2010.
Of the many programs that Mr. Gorton was associated with, the one that stands out with particular pride was The FAMS Peer Leadership Corps (PLC). With the assistance and support of Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Klingler, this school and community based program afforded opportunities for all students and was recognized at a ceremony in Washington, DC by the National Character Education Foundation.
PLC participated in such activities and projects as VFW Post 5702, Dance-A-Thon Fund Raiser; Helen Cogger Food Drive; The VIP Celebration and the annual FAMS High School Reunion. Many of these activities are still going strong at FAMS and Mr. Gorton still stays in contact with the current advisors to PLC. He enjoys hearing about the many great projects and events of PLC and the FAMS School Community.
Although his primary address was in Oakland, the place you could always find Mr. Gorton, sometimes seven days a week, was 755 Franklin Avenue at FAMS, his home away from home. With so many special memories, he truly enjoyed his time as an educator, especially the daily interaction with the staff and the students. During his 39 and half-year tenure he worked with four superintendents and eight principals while educating countless students.
Mr. Gorton has only had two employers in his life, Uncle Sam and the town of Franklin Lakes. He served for almost four decades in Franklin Lakes and one of his most treasured moments was being named Grand Marshall for the Franklin Lakes Memorial Day Parade. As a retired Hellcat, he had performed in a myriad of ceremonial functions, and as a veteran, having this honor bestowed upon him was truly one of the highlights of his life.
After so many years of being so active, retirement has not been easy for Mr. Gorton. Even after three years he often finds himself missing his colleagues and the students at FAMS. He still plays the drums with his band on the weekends, and retirement has afforded him the opportunity to explore new destinations with his family. Most recently Mr. Gorton added another new title to his resume, that of proud Papa to new granddaughter Olivia Page, with whom he’s responsible for babysitting duty every Monday.
And as Olivia Page grows up, she will get first hand guidance from her grandfather, and she will be just like so many other fortunate students at FAMS who had the pleasure of being around and learning from Mr. Gorton. While Mr. Gorton no longer goes to FAMS every day, seldom a day goes by when his lasting legacy, whether in faculty he’s mentored or the PLC he founded, isn’t looming proudly over the entire FAMS community. Teachers, students and parents will never forget the many contributions Mr. Gorton made to all our lives.
Franklin Lakes Schools extends a special thank you to Mr. Gorton and all of the veterans for you service to our Country. You embody the ideals upon which this great country of ours was founded.