Those who faithfully attended Husky football games in the 1960s recall the resonance of the University of Washington marching band permeating through the noise of the raucous crowd. Its director, William Cole, a Haller Lake resident, must have used ear protection.
A native of Norton, Kansas, William Cole got a job playing trumpet in Les Brown’s band following graduation from the University of Illinois in 1946. While the band was touring in Seattle the following year, he hooked up with an old friend from army service and local bandleader, Ken Cloud, and decided to settle here. Cole auditioned for the Seattle Symphony, where he played principal trumpet for the next seventeen years. In a day and age when Seattle Symphony musicians were lucky to make $1200 a year, Cole also worked as a band teacher at Lake Washington High School from 1948 to 1954. During this time, he even managed to obtain a masters degree from the University of Washington.
In 1954, Cole was hired as the band teacher at Stadium High School in Tacoma. With Seattle Symphony rehearsals and performances on weeknights and weekends at a time when Interstate 5 was hardly in the planning stage, he must have spent most of his life in his car. What a relief it must have been for him when he joined the University of Washington faculty in 1957 as director of the marching band and professor of trumpet, moving into a house at 527 NE 124th St.
Members of the Husky marching band paid a surprise visit to Cole at his house on the evening of December 11, 1965 serenading the Cole family with Christmas carols. As the occasional sour note wafted through the cold air, Cole queried diplomatically: “Who did the arranging?”
Tragedy struck the Cole family in 1969, when Cole’s 11- year-old daughter, Wendy, was killed when a car in which she was a passenger was hit by a drunk driver while she was en route to a recreational outing on Camano Island. “He never was the same after that,” recalled Haller Lake resident Warren Dawson.
Cole was hired as Director of Bands at Western Washington University in Bellingham in 1970, a position he retained for the rest of his life. Cole conducted the Seattle Junior Symphony from 1965 to 1974, and again from 1978 to 1979. He returned to the Haller Lake area on June 2, 1979 to conduct a Junior Symphony concert at Ingraham High School. Ironically, it was his last public performance. Cole succumbed to colon cancer one month later at the age pof 59.
Cole was an inspiration to so many young musicians, as his talents as a music educator revealed themselves in his ability to combine a sense of humor, compassion, and impatience with mediocrity. He would be proud of the valuable legacy he left behind.