Johnson High School band director Anne Marie Person retires

Jason Kroll made history in 1990 when he became the first boy to try out for the Johnson High School dance team.

But Kroll said he would never have become the school’s first male J-Ette without the help of Anne Marie Person, the school’s longtime band director and then-J-Ette advisor.

Person, who retires Monday, was Kroll’s strongest advocate when he had a “wild hair” to join the team, which was then all girls, he said.

“There was some controversy because it had never been done before,” said Kroll, 49, of St. Paul. “Her philosophy was, ‘If he can kick as high as the girls, then we’re going to let him be a J-Ette,’ so I got to audition, and I was a J-Ette.”

It wasn’t easy. Kroll was ridiculed and “pelted with Skittles and insults” while dancing with the team, he said.

Jason Kroll and Johnson High School band director Anne Marie Person pose together at Kroll’s 20th class reunion in 2011. “Ms. Person is always invited, and over the years has shown up,” Kroll said. (Courtesy of Jason Kroll)

On one especially trying afternoon, he said, he ended up in Person’s office. “She shut the door and let me cry and scream and use every single obscenity without judgment or recourse,” he said. “Who knows how much that saved me that day? There aren’t enough ways to say ‘Thank you.’ I simply know I am a better person for having crossed paths with this angel carrying a baton.”

Person, who started teaching at Johnson in 1986, served as the school’s orchestra and band director, taught guitar and songwriting, and coordinated graduation.


At graduation on Wednesday night at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Person donned a black gown and conducted the school’s orchestra for the last time. “I brought extra Kleenex, just to be safe,” she said. “Some of the kids needed it. I was trying to focus on the kids instead of me.”

Focusing on the kids is what Person had done for the past 36 years, said Assistant Principal Kevin Davis. “This wasn’t just a job to her; this was her passion,” he said. “Her whole thing was about the music and the kids. She was here because she loved music, and she wanted her students to love it, too.”

“Band kids” are known for being good kids, she said. “I like to think that we help them find their goodness. Working in a group, toward a common goal, helps them have a structure for positive activity and positive achievement. … An ensemble helps kids find their strengths, share them with others and encourage each other to develop those things. I think that’s the part we want to bring out for everybody.”

Former student Amelia Wilkerson Jaspersen, 32, of Woodbury, said Person encouraged her and her bandmates to play multiple instruments “in order to have a wide variety of experience.”

Person, she said, understood her students in a way that was different from other teachers.

“She would treat you as an equal, but she would also hold you to a really high standard,” said Jaspersen, who played flute and piccolo. “She didn’t let you slip up. She pushed us for Ordway Honors Concerts, for solo ensemble contests. She made sure everybody had a fair opportunity for solos. She had a way of making sure that everyone who wanted the opportunity – whether they wanted it or not, or whether they realized their potential or not – that it was realized and met, even if it took all four years.”

Person also had a gift for explaining complex musical terms in simple terms. “She would say, ‘This piece needs to be elegant, not elephant,’” Jaspersen said. “She would always have some funny quip or funny way of phrasing things.”

Every spring, Person put on a poultry-themed concert that would feature classics like “Turkey in the Straw” and “The Chicken Dance,” Jaspersen said. She also was known for her “Turkey Lecture,” given every year before Thanksgiving break.

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