After more than 20 years of teaching vocal music at Waupaca High School, Dan Wolfgram is leaving to become a principal in the Manawa School District.
On July 1, he becomes Manawa’s new senior and junior high school principal.
“I signed the contract. The board is set to formally approve it at its May 19 meeting,” Wolfgram said. “I know that there is an outstanding, dedicated group of professionals there that are focused on giving their very best to the students of Manawa, and I look forward to uniting their forces and providing some vision for the community and the students.”
His resignation from Waupaca was scheduled to go before the Waupaca School Board during its Tuesday, May 13, meeting.
District Administrator David Poeschl said, “Mr. Wolfgram did all he was asked to do during his time in Waupaca and did it with the utmost competence. He has made the experience for students memorable and, in some cases, the beginnings of a career in music.
“Mr Wolfgram carried on the legacy he was assigned when he arrived in Waupaca, and now, over 20 years later, is ready to move on to the next stage in his career. I wish him well, and celebrate the fact we had Mr. Wolfgram in Waupaca for such an extended period of time. The school district, as well as the community, understand the great work he has done here.”
Wolfgram is in his 23rd year of teaching at WHS. Before joining the Waupaca School District, he taught in the Wisconsin Dells School District for two years.
“It’s been an emotionally charged decision, because it’s hard to walk away from something you’ve done for 25 years and are passionate about,” he said. “I still love the classroom – the students, the faculty. But, I’m ready for the next challenge and feel I have something to offer.”
Wolfgram received his master’s degree in educational administration from Marian University in 2004.
“I looked for administrative jobs before my kids reached the high school level,” he said.
After he did not find one then, Wolfgram decided to put the search on hold until his daughters were closer to graduating.
Wolfgram and his wife, Erin, have three daughters: Karah, Kelsie and Abby. Karah graduated from WHS in 2013. Kelsie is a junior, and Abby is a freshman.
“I wanted the opportunity to teach all my kids, and I did that,” he said. “Also, I had accomplished everything I had wanted to in Waupaca and was ready for the next challenge.”
Wolfgram and his family will continue to live in Waupaca, and he also plans to continue being the director of Waupaca’s Fine Arts Festival and the Community Choir and Orchestra.
“The stars seemed to align. It’s the opportunity to advance my career, still be in music and not have to uproot my family,” Wolfgram said. “Everything seemed right. It seemed time. I didn’t know if an opportunity would present itself again in the future.”
Wolfgram grew up in Grafton, Wis., and was in high school when he discovered his love of music.
“I was completely inspired by my high school choir director. I held him on a pedestal, and he changed my life,” Wolfgram said. “I wanted to be able to affect lives the way he had changed mine.”
That teacher was Steve Vepraskas.
“He was known as Mr. V. He was kind of like Mr. (Jerry) Knoepfel,” Wolfgram said, referring to the person who was the choral instructor at WHS before he was hired.
When asked how Vepraskas changed his life, Wolfgram said, “He opened Pandora’s box for me. He unleashed my passion. He gave me a voice, a stage. He took a chance on me, and all along the way, he encouraged me.”
During his middle school years, Wolfgram sang in church.
“But, because my voice didn’t change when I went into high school, I didn’t sign up (for choir) my freshman year,” he said.
He did not sign up the following year, either.
By the time he was a junior, Wolfgram’s voice had changed, and he auditioned for the school’s musical.
“I wasn’t even in choir. Anyone could audition,” he said.
The musical was “The Sound of Music,” and Wolfgram got the lead.
“Then, I signed up for choir. I auditioned for Madrigals and made that, too. I was hooked,” he said.
When it was time to make a decision about college, Wolfgram chose the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, because he knew there were opportunities there for students who were non-music majors, including the Singing Statesmen.
“I went with the intent of trying to get into that group,” he said. “I auditioned. The assistant professor stopped me halfway through the audition. He went to get the top director.”
That director ended up putting Wolfgram in the college’s top choir.
When Wolfgram told him he wanted to be in the Singing Statesmen, the director told him he could do both.
“I enjoyed it so much after being in it one year that I realized I wanted to give it a shot,” Wolfgram said.
He decided to change his major from business to music.
“I went home and told my parents I wanted to be a music major,” Wolfgram said. “Their first question was, ‘Can you get a job in that?’”
Wolfgram graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in K-12 general music and 7-12 choral music and was hired by the Wisconsin Dells School District.
On to Waupaca
After two years of teaching in the Wisconsin Dells, Wolfgram was hired to be the new choral instructor at WHS, following Knoepfel’s retirement.
“I was looking for the next step. I knew Wisconsin Dells wouldn’t provide the opportunities professionally and musically I was looking for,” he said.
In the Dells, there were 400 students in the high school, and the choirs performed in the gym. Wolfgram also had to teach general music at the elementary level.
“This provided the next stepping stone, the logical step,” he said of Waupaca’s program. “It was a bigger program, better facilities, more support. At that age, I think I was just looking for the next challenge, and I knew I wasn’t going to be satsified professionally in the Wisconsin Dells. I was looking for bigger and better. Waupaca seemed to fill that void.”
Several times during his tenure here, he wondered if the next step was to go to a larger high school.
However, Wolfgram realized Waupaca’s program was actually bigger than a lot of programs at larger high schools.
“Waupaca loves its music program, and they support it,” he said. “They have such a rich tradition.”
By Wolfgram’s third year at WHS, there were between 200 and 260 students in choir, and that is when a position was added at the high school.
That position included teaching both choral and instrumental music, which continues today.
“The key to the success for the entire department has been the support of the three music instructors at the high school,” Wolfgram said. “It’s too much for one person to do alone for any lengthy amount of time.”
He said, “When I took over from Jerry, it was a solid program, but I added things to it.”
Wolfgram added the men’s choir, women’s concert chorale, vocal jazz ensemble and then the Madrigal dinner.
“The Madrigals existed, but there wasn’t a dinner. Jerry had started that group,” he said.
Knoepfel also started the high school musicals, with the first one in 1963.
“Jerry was here a total of 29 years, and this is my 23rd,” Wolfgram said. “There are not too many schools that can boost having two directors in 50 years.”
“Waupaca has fulfilled a commitment to quality Music Education for over 50 years. The community realizes the importance of having programs in place that challenge students as well as provide affirming musical experiences,” Wolfgram said. “The Concert Choir trip to New York City is a tradition that students have come to expect. The administration realizes the importance of this experience for its educational and cultural value.”
He said, “The community has also shown its commitment to the arts when they built the new high school in 2000. Our PAC is a wonderful performance venue that has given the students and the community the ability to experience a musical with an orchestra pit and a full rig and fly system, identical to many Broadway theaters. The musicals at Waupaca have been a 51-year tradition that I am sure will continue to great success under new direction.”
After moving into the high school, Berray Billington and then Anne Justmann worked with Wolfgram as assistant directors.
“The success we have enjoyed in this building is due solely to the collaborative efforts of the production team. It is no longer a one-man show,” Wolfgram said.
That production team also included WHS teachers Mark Kryshak, Monica Reeves, David Larson and Lee Schultz.
“It’s such a collective effort from the faculty, parents, businesses. I can’t overstate their support enough,” Wolfgram said.
When a new sound system was needed for the Performing Arts Center or for scholarships to help send students to NYC, the community support was there, he said.
“I am so fortunate to be a part of the history of such a wonderful program,” Wolfgram said.
He thanks the school board, administration, faculty, students, parents, volunteers, businesses, community members, audiences and all who helped contribute to the success of the program.
“I’m so very blessed. I’m just very thankful to my family – to my wife who has raised our three children and supported me in all my aspirations,” he said.
Wolfgram said he inherited a vibrant and healthy music program from Knoepfel, who was not only his predessor but his mentor.
“Keep in mind that when Jerry retired, there was a huge concern as to who would pick up the next chapter, and they took a chance on me, and I was lucky enough to do this for 23 years,” he said.
Wolfgram said Waupaca is a special place to teach music.
He knows this weekend’s Senior Tribute Concert will be an emotional one for him but looks forward to his new career in Manawa.
“I am very excited to be a part of the Manawa School District. I am looking forward to working with the staff,” Wolfgram said.
He also looks forward to continuing to be the director of the community choir and to next fall, sitting in a seat other than the conductor’s seat for the first time when he goes to Waupaca High School’s musical.
“This job opportunity allows music to take a new role in my life as a hobby and a passion, but not my bread and butter,” Wolfgram said.