Looking back, giving back: Former students raising funds for Robbinsdale Schools in honor of retired teacher

Thirteen years after his retirement, Jim French is still inspiring his music students.

In this photo from 1980, Jim French instructs band members at Armstrong High School. The school’s graduating class from that year is currently raising funds to donate to the school district in honor of French’s 28-year career. (Submitted photo)
In this photo from 1980, Jim French instructs band members at Armstrong High School. The school’s graduating class from that year is currently raising funds to donate to the school district in honor of French’s 28-year career. (Submitted photo)

French served as the band instructor at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth 1974-2002. In honor of his career, members of Armstrong’s graduating class of 1980 are raising funds for the school district’s music students ahead of their reunion next month.

“We wanted to find some way to thank him,” said Aura Carlstrom, who initiated the fundraising.

Carlstrom recalled her days as an Armstrong student and the impact that “Mr. French” had on her time at the school.

“For me, band was my identity — I was in marching band, all the musicals, jazz band, orchestra, all of it,” she said. “And Mr. French was the nicest guy in the world. He was a great mentor and a great teacher.”

Carlstrom added that French would also go above and beyond with his students. For example, he would arrange performances for her outside of school.

“He had friends in the community and set me up with churches that needed a percussionist for Easter and things like that,” she said. “They would give something like $25. And as a 15-year-old, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. It might have been a little thing to him, but it’s something I still remember. I’m sure there were many students over the next decades that have similar stories.”

Jim French and his wife Barbara today. (Submitted photo)
Jim French and his wife Barbara today. (Submitted photo)

Carlstrom said that French’s career and his connection with his students came up as the 1980 class was preparing for their 35-year reunion Sept. 11, and his former students wanted to present him with a special token of appreciation.

“We thought that the best way to thank Mr. French for so many years of being a great teacher, mentor and role model would be to give back by donating to the schools in his name,” she said.

Carlstrom chose the Instruments 4 Kids program through the Seven Dreams Education Foundation as the beneficiary. The foundation is an independent nonprofit founded by community members, parents and education professionals of Robbinsdale Area Schools.

Instruments 4 Kids assists students in the district that want to learn an instrument but whose families cannot afford to rent or buy the instruments.

“It’s the perfect charity to thank a guy that directed in our school district for 28 years,” Carlstrom said.

Donations can be made through YouCaring at tinyurl.com/o3mlqsl. As of press deadline, the effort had raised $1,990 of its $5,000 goal.

The donation will be presented to French at a luncheon Sept. 10, Carlstrom said.

“We want to surprise him with it,” she said.

(The Sun Sailor was informed that French’s wife, Barbara, is working to shield Jim from any media coverage of the fundraising effort.)

Instruments 4 Kids also accepts donations of used instruments. They can be dropped off 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Education Service Center, 4148 Winnetka Ave. N., New Hope, and Sandburg Middle School, 2400 Sandburg Ln., Golden Valley.

For more information about Instruments 4 Kids, call 763-504-4088.

Carlstrom encourages everyone to donate to the effort, as the program can make a measurable difference in a student’s life.

“There are so many kids that wouldn’t be able to participate in band or orchestra without help from others,” she said. “I know, because I was one of them.”

Contact Derek Bartos at [email protected]