Band leader Robert Krueger began swinging as a high school trumpeter and his love of music endured until he died Monday -- not long after conducting his 55th consecutive season with a band he founded on Northport's village green.
Krueger, 86, died of congestive heart failure at an East Northport hospice, having achieved all his high school-born aspirations as a notable music teacher in schools and a figure in Long Island's music circles, said his daughter, Pamela Dayton of Northport. "He believed in the power of music, that it could influence and change lives," she said. "His students mention that he taught more than music -- life lessons, integrity and building character."
In 1959, Krueger founded the Northport Community Band at a long-unused gazebo on the village green. He and students first played for family and friends, but the band and concerts blossomed over the years, attracting thousands of music lovers for five Thursdays each summer under the stars.
He came up with the idea after noticing a gazebo beautifully situated on the village green next to the harbor, and when he learned it had been unused since World War II, he vowed to bring music back to the park, said Sue Epstein, vice president of Northport Community Band. Fifteen years ago, village officials named the gazebo after Krueger.
The band played the 1812 Overture as the concert closer each year, a piece that required the sounds of cannon shots. Krueger helped make a "cannon" out of steel drums, perfecting the sounds in his backyard decades ago, to the annoyance of some neighbors, Dayton recalled.
Born in Michigan, Krueger played professionally in dance bands and taught music in Manhasset and Northport schools. He helped create the annual Newsday Marching Band Festival in 1963, led the Northport High School Marching Band to several New York Jets halftime shows and made it last year into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
After he retired in 1982 and began living part time in Tampa, Fla., he still returned every year to lead the Northport Community Band, along with some of the 700 musicians who have played in the band, and the Long Island Summer Music Workshop, which taught students how to march and play.
Dayton said her father was a "vivacious" man who made a team with his wife, Marjorie, a music student he met in high school. She died in 2009. The pair had lived in a Silver Bullet trailer years ago when they were young and poor in Jericho, Dayton said. They entertained friends as a music duo at dinner parties, she said, and her father would play a few notes on the piano, then fall off the bench to get some laughs.
Besides his daughter, Krueger is also survived by sons Robert Krueger II of Highland Park, Ill., and Kurt Krueger of Tampa, and daughter Kristi Carroll of Tampa.
Viewing hours are 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Brueggemann Funeral Home in East Northport. A service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in East Northport.