Charles “Bucky” Steele, the influential leader of the Tucson High Marching 100 band who spent 25 years at the podium with the Tucson Pops Orchestra, died Monday in the Tucson VA Hospice. He was 91 and had battled Alzheimer's since 2007.
Steele took over the Pops Orchestra from founder Georges DeMeester, who had clocked in 25 years at the podium and was ready to dissolve the group if Steele hadn't stepped up. Steele, with his wife Jeanne as his emcee, went on to build the orchestra's financial support and audience for its Music Under the Stars concerts at Reid Park.
“What he did was he saved that orchestra from falling apart when he took over. It was ready to dissolve,” Steele’s successor László Veres said.
Steele, who was born on a ranch in rural Scottsbluff, Neb., and raised around horses and livestock, came to Tucson in 1958 to teach band at Tucson High. It took him no time to immerse himself in Tucson’s music scene, taking jobs in any band that would have him including the TSO, the Tucson Opera orchestra and the Flagstaff Festival Orchestra.
“His whole life was music,” Jeanne Steele said. “His first job was when he was in fifth grade with an adult band at kind of a dive in the middle of the countryside. They had the screens up so the beer bottles wouldn’t hit them.”
In addition to his wife of 44 years, Steele is survived by three sons, Bruce Steele of Oklahoma, Chuck Steele of Dos Cabezas and Steve Steele of Tucson; a brother, Joe Steele of Nebraska; a sister, Ruthanne Hooper of Nebraska; and seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Jeanne Steele said a memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 11 at Northminster Presbyterian Church, 2450 E. Fort Lowell Road.
Steele was the fifth member of the Tucson Pops family to die in 2013. Executive Director Dorothy Spence died in early June and the orchestra lost its primary cheerleader and fundraiser Dave Sitton and musicians Richard Leek (double bass) and violist Rebecca Son in August.