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Celebration of Bagpipes

Bel Air High School alumni from the Class of 1971 and the Class of 1972 donated more than $20,000 to help support the school’s famed Pipe Band with uniforms, musical equipment, and other supplies during a recent “Celebration of Bagpipes” ceremony at the Highlander campus.

The donation came from the alumni’s recent “Reunion of all Reunions” event, which took place in September for “Classic Highlanders” who graduated from Bel Air High School from 1960 to 1980, said reunion organizer John Watson.

“What made the reunion extra special was this fundraising effort to help retool, repurpose, and recruit Highlanders to restore the Pipe Band to its glory days and beyond,” Watson said. The reunion committee managed to raise $3,000 from this effort, “but it had an even bigger impact on one particular Bel Air graduate who was inspired to really help the cause.

“Richard Daly, Class of 1971, was so touched by the desire to reinvigorate one of the school’s longest-running traditions that he has singularly gifted $17,088 to support the Pipe Band’s restoration,” Watson said. In total, more than $20,000 was given to the Bel Air Pipe Band.

The alumni group also donated a variety of items to the school at the Celebration of Bagpipes event, including a Hamilton Tartan swatch from the Pipe Band’s original uniforms in the 1960s; a painting of the school’s original administration building painted by former Highlander Alfredo De La Cruz (Class of ’71); and several other items.

“Highlander alumni are among our most dedicated and loyal supporters, and we are sincerely  grateful for this generous donation,” said Bel Air High School Principal Jake Valtierra. “Our Pipe Band is a unique and beloved part of the Highlander experience, and this gift will go a long way toward strengthening and preserving it for future generations of students.”

The Pipe Band played a significant role in the Reunion of all Reunions last fall – the festivities included a special “Parade of Bagpipers” led by John Estes, the school’s longtime Pipe Band teacher who was recruited for the position in 1962 by former Ysleta ISD Superintendent of Schools J.M. Hanks.

“I didn’t even do well in drum class, and here I was trying to teach pipes and drums,” Estes said jokingly during a recent interview. “Dr. Hanks called me one day and said, ‘Well, Estes? What do you think? Are you going to stick with us or are we going to assign you to something else?’

“And I told him: ‘I love my students,” Estes added, his voice full of emotion. “I’ll keep it.”

Estes, who retired in 1992 after 30 years serving as Pipe Band director, was among several speakers at the Celebration of Bagpipes ceremony; others included Ysleta ISD Trustee Connie Woodruff, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Xavier De La Torre, Valtierra, Watson, and several other Bel Air alumni.