Clarence F. Wroblewski, former instrumental music instructor and longtime chair of the Patterson High School music department, died Saturday at his Lutherville home from heart failure. He was 95.
“He was one of the foundations of my own professional music career, because of my training under him. It led to my career,” said Jari Villanueva, a 23-year member of the U.S. Air Force Band who graduated from Patterson in 1973.
“He was a very patient man who loved working with students. I never saw him frustrated or upset, no matter what the situation,” said Mr. Villanueva, who lives in Catonsville. “I called him Patterson’s ‘Mr. Holland’ — after the music teacher Richard Dreyfuss played in the movie ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus’ — because he touched so many students. He was a compass in their lives.”
John Ziemann, director of the Baltimore Colts’ Marching Band and president of Baltimore’s Marching Ravens, studied with Mr. Wroblewski and recalled him for his “dedication, caring and never giving up on a student who was having problems.”
“He’d stay after school for hours if a student was having trouble with the music. He’d encourage them and never left them behind,” said Mr. Ziemann, who lives in Churchville. “He had a passion and love for teaching — and for making Patterson a great school.”
Clarence Francis Wroblewski was born and raised in West Hazleton, Pa., the son John Wroblewski, a Polish immigrant who worked as a coal miner, and his wife, Mary Wroblewski, a bartender.
His wife of 61 years, the former Frances Rankin, said her husband developed an interest in teaching as a teenager when he instructed his father, “who was stricken with black lung and needed to learn to read and write in order to get a new job.”
After graduating in 1941 from West Hazleton High School, he began his college studies at West Chester State College in Pennsylvania. He left college in 1943 when he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and, after completing training in Georgia and Mississippi, was deployed to the Philippines and later Japan.
After being discharged in 1945, he returned to West Chester State and received a bachelor’s degree in music education.
In 1947, he began his teaching career in Chesapeake City Elementary School in Cecil County, instructing the chorus and band. Two years later he began teaching instrumental music at Highlandtown Elementary School, and in 1951 he joined the faculty of then-Patterson Park High School. He completed a master’s degree in music education in 1953 from Columbia University.
He met his future wife at Patterson; she chaired the school business department. They were married in April 1957.
During his 34-year career at Patterson, Mr. Wroblewski assembled a concert band, marching band and stage band. An accomplished pianist and clarinetist, he also excelled at and taught brass, winds and percussion.
“Many former Pattersonites fondly recall their time in the concert band, marching band, stage band, Clipper Combo, pit orchestra — as well as those who sang in the Clipper Choir, Top Sails, Gospel Choir and performed in Broadway musicals,” Mr. Villanueva said. “For many, the yearly concerts during American Education Week, the annual performances of Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ spring concerts and Broadway musicals were highlights of their musical endeavors at Patterson.”
Mr. Ziemann, who graduated in 1966, said that when he entered Patterson he was a member of the Colts Marching Band as a percussionist and was “full of myself.”
“In the 10th grade, Mr. Wroblewski straightened me out. One day, he pulled me into his office and we had a heart-to-heart talk and I left knowing I had to straighten out my life,” he said. “He saw something in me that no one else did, and he made me drum major my senior year. He was like a father figure to me.”
He said Mr. Wroblewski never got angry, but when a student was out of line, a certain look came over his face. “You knew that look, and I got it a lot,” he said, with a laugh.
When Mr. Ziemann received his band letter, he found a note that Mr. Wroblewski had written on an index card.
“He wrote, ‘Keep up the wonderful courage and enthusiasm. You will make a major difference in music someday,’ ” he said. “I have it to this day.”
Joseph Compello, a 1959 Patterson graduate and composer who was band director for 25 years at Carney Elementary School, published “Dimensions,” a musical score, in 2003. Its opening page is dedicated to his former teacher: “To my mentor, Clarence F. Wroblewski, who set my life’s course on the path of music.”
Mr. Wroblewski’s musical interests extended beyond East Baltimore. His love of singing led him to direct the Lutina Polish Chorus and the Chorus of the Chesapeake.
“When ‘The Music Man’ premiered at the Stanley Theatre, Clarence directed the Chorus of the Chesapeake, who performed all of the numbers from the film before it was shown,” his wife said. “He even took them to New York, where they performed on the Jackie Gleason show.”
He played clarinet in the Baltimore Municipal Park Band for decades and was assistant conductor of the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he was the organist at the now-closed St. Gerard’s Roman Catholic Chapel in Highlandtown and was a supporter of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
After retiring in 1985, he continued teaching music and performing. He also enjoyed working in his garden, wood carving and was a regular Mr. Fix-It, his wife said.
His daughter, Amy Montminy of Boston, agreed, saying: “Daddy can jimmy-rig anything.”
In 2014, Mr. Villanueva organized a reunion of Mr. Wroblewski’s students and friends, held at the 5th Regiment Armory. Many of his former students brought their instruments to form a band. At the conclusion of the celebration, Mr. Wroblewski was asked to conduct five pieces.
He picked up the baton and, despite not having conducted for 30 years and being 91 years old, did so with “dignified composure,” his wife said.
Mr. Ziemann recalled a saying of Mr. Wroblewski’s: “You can inspire by the power of music.”
For more than 40 years, he was a communicant and Eucharistic minister at the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Sacred Heart, 1701 Regent Road, Mount Washington, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by three sons, Dr. Vincent P. Wroblewski of Lutherville, Michael S. Wroblewski of Washington and Dr. John J. Wroblewski of Santa Fe, N.M.; and eight grandchildren.