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Farewell to the maestro: Hundreds turn out to celebrate the life of Don Baggett

“I feel a smile right now,” said Wanda Baggett of her late husband, Don, whose life was celebrated Sunday at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. “He was a positive person and loved the Lord.”

Hundreds packed the Whitney Pavilion to pay homage to Don Baggett — the iconic director of the Nevada Union High School choir for 36 years. The school’s theater bears his name.

Don and Wanda were married just short of 63 years, and she remembers her husband, who died in January at 85, as a humble and honorable man.

“He was real,” Wanda said. “There was no fake with him. He was loving, and he was always in good humor. He was a good guy.”

Rod Baggett, Don and Wanda’s son, has filled his father’s shoes professionally and now leads the high school choir. A large group of alumni were there Sunday to perform in honor of their former director, and many of them have felt Baggett’s presence throughout their lives.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to someone who helped me along my career path,” said Celesta Falconi Cairns of Leadville, Colorado. “He is not someone who will be easily forgotten in my life.

Rod Baggett leads the memorial choir Sunday in celebration of his father, Don Baggett.
Kial James

“I teach high school band and choir, and Don Baggett was a huge reason for why I decided to study music in the first place, because of the wonderful experience I had, and I want to give other kids that experience as well.”

Matt Griffith of Reno, who was in the class of 1988, said: “Mr. Baggett’s amazing. His love of music got me even more into music than I already was. I sang in choir for several years and that just kind of did it (for me).”

Baggett’s son Paul was overwhelmed with the outpouring from the community.

“We are grieving and celebrating at the same time,” he said. “We were privileged with having such a great dad, and of course a great mom who was behind the scenes sometimes, but a lot of the time she was front and center helping Dad.

“It’s been said over and over again that he was a humble guy, but at the same time he gave me and my (three) brothers a lot of confidence.”

Alynn Hiscox was in Baggett’s choir for three years in high school, graduating in 1982. Hiscox noted that he was a from a broken home and with Baggett’s guidance was able to cope with his personal troubles.

“Don Baggett saved my life,” Hiscox said. “(He) was my center. He gave me a focal point. He gave me something to channel my energies into. He gave me a reason to get up and go to school every day. He gave me a reason to work hard, and to try and succeed. Without that I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Hiscox was also one of the students who attended the choir’s well-known trip to the Youth and Music Festival of Vienna in 1981, an event which Wanda Baggett said her husband would likely consider the crowning achievement of his career.

“That Vienna choir was a highlight,” she said.

Jeff Baggett welcomes the many friends, family members, colleagues and students to his father, Don Baggett's memorial Sunday.
Kial James

Sunday’s service featured a number of speakers, including the four Baggett sons — Jeff, Rod, Paul and John — who joked about their father referring to them as his “quartet” before performing “Abide With Me,” accompanied by Baggett’s grandson Antoine on trombone.

The trombone was one of Don’s early instruments, and his passion for it was represented by PaleoBones, a quartet performing the labrophones throughout the service.

Featured speakers included Larry Meek, who served as Nevada Union’s principal from 1986 to 1989; Mark Rindels, the pastor at Baggett’s place of worship, First Baptist Church; and Scott Gallagher, pastor of Calvary Bible Church.

“This has been really special to see all the different chapters of his life, from the 1960s to the 2000s,” said class of 1996 choir member Sarah Tendall, who traveled from Sonoma County. “To go into the choir room for rehearsal — I had not been there since high school, and it’s exactly the same. It all comes back.”

Aside from the famed European choir trips, “even in the classroom Mr. Baggett expanded the world to us by exposing us to other cultures and music,” said choir alumni Gwen Hoff. “It opened my eyes. He was an amazingly influential person, even in subtle ways I didn’t recognize at the time.”

“I can hear Don saying we are humbled by all of this and that’s how I feel,” said Mrs. Baggett, “but it’s also comforting to know he touched so many lives.”

In lieu of flowers the Baggett family requests memorial donations be made to the Nevada Union Choir Boosters, First Baptist Church of Grass Valley, or Hospice of the Foothills.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com

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