Seymour Middle School music teachers retiring after 38 years


Just off of the main hallway inside Seymour Middle School, a doorway leads to the two music rooms.

The band room is on the left, and the choir room is on the right.

For nearly 30 years, Ellen Mirer and Keith Stam taught next door to each other.

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, though, new teachers will be leading the school’s music program.

That’s because Mirer and Stam recently retired after 38 years in education.

“I thought about it at the end of last year, but it really got cemented in more like ‘Yeah, I want to retire this year’ because this year was really hard,” Mirer said, referring to the challenges of teaching students in person and virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I never thought I would have enough money to retire, and then once I found out that ‘Yeah, I can make it,’ then it was like, ‘OK, I’m doing it,'” said Mirer, who turns 60 today. “I want to retire with enough time to do things — travel and just enjoy myself.”

Keith Stam

Stam, 62, said he became eligible to retire seven years ago, but since he loves teaching, he couldn’t have imagined doing anything else.

“Ellen retiring this year made me think that maybe if I retire at the same time, then this whole program can start fresh with two new people,” he said. “That’s part of it.”

The pandemic also played a big part in his decision to retire. Virtual choir was an option, but Stam said you can’t teach choir on the internet.

“With middle school, if you’re not one-on-one, if they are not in the room with you, you cannot hear them sing in the wrong notes and stop and fix it and then put it together,” he said.

Stam spent all 38 years with Seymour Community School Corp.

After graduating from Columbus East High School in 1977, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education with a concentration in voice from the Indiana University School of Music in December 1981.

He was in the choir in high school and was drawn to music because of his family.

“My mother (Ruthann Stam) played the piano and was a private piano teacher and organist at church since she was 16. She died two years ago, she was 82 and she just stopped one year before she died,” he said.

His father, Earl Stam, was a singer and taught two years each at Jennings County and Franklin high schools.

Then his father got involved with Summer Stock in Indianapolis and Columbus that did theater shows in the summer, and he met some people on Broadway.

“They said, ‘If you ever come to New York, look us up,’ and he bought a two-way ticket on a train. He wanted to make sure he could get back,” Stam said.

“He rode a train to New York, looked up those people, knocked on the door and they answered and they were surprised to see him,” he said. “He said, ‘I’m here,’ and they said, ‘OK, come on in.’ The next day, he auditioned for ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,’ and he got in.”

Stam was 4 at the time, and he said his father was only gone for a short time. Earl now lives in Columbus.

Music is in Stam’s blood, as he has several other family members involved.

“Music has always been a part of my life,” he said. “This is something I’ve just always done.”

With a year remaining at IU, Stam married his wife, Tracy, and they had their first child, Heidi. They wound up moving to Columbus, and Stam worked for South Central Wholesale Plumbing.

One day in the summer of 1983, his wife was going to Jackson County to visit her parents, and he asked her to stop by the SCSC administration building to see if there were any job openings. It turned out SMS was looking for a choir director.

In a span of three days, he turned in an application, was interviewed and accepted the job offer.

“I think that God has a plan, and I was supposed to ask that question that day,” Stam said. “I don’t know why. I just knew that I did.”

Stam started at SMS that fall, and the family rented a home on a farm until 1986 when they bought one, which is where they still live today.

In 2004, he was asked to move to Seymour High School. He wound up getting to teach the youngest of their four children, Katie, her senior year. Then in 2009 when she won the title of Miss America, he accompanied her on grand piano as she sang for her talent.

Stam returned to SMS in 2011 and remained there until retiring.

He said it was a joy teaching students.

“The biggest challenge with this age of course is the boy’s voice changing. Being a man having gone through that, I’m able to help them. I’ve kept a large number of boys in choir,” Stam said. “And the girls, I can help them a little bit. I know the mechanisms and all that. I can falsetto and sing the soprano part. I can do that, but it’s not as good as a female.”

Ellen Mirer

Mirer graduated from Yorktown High School in 1979.

She played clarinet in the high school band, and at 16, she decided she wanted to become a band director.

“I had a fantastic middle school band director and really good high school band director,” she said. “There were three people in my graduating class from high school that became band directors. That’s a lot for a school of 200 where there were maybe 20 seniors in the high school band and for three of them to become band directors.”

She received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Ball State University in 1983 and then became the band director at Hamilton Southeastern High School.

“I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do it,” she said, smiling. “It was fun and exciting.”

In 1986, she decided it was time for a change and came across a band director opening at SMS.

“Somebody I student-taught with knew Steve McGrew, and then my dad actually knew Joe Goodman, so my dad called Joe Goodman and asked him about the band program at Seymour,” Mirer said. “Joe gave such a good talk about the band, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll apply for that,’ so I did.”

She started out team teaching with McGrew, spending mornings at SHS and afternoons at SMS.

A schedule change in the mid-2000s had her solely at SMS, and that’s where she stayed until retiring.

Mirer said she liked having an opportunity to work with students for up to three years.

“That’s the most rewarding part is to watch the kids grow from knowing absolutely nothing to being able to play,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see kids go on through high school and then stay with it and keep playing their instrument.”

Now retired

In retirement, Stam said he plans to spend more time with family, and once his wife retires, he hopes they can do some traveling. Tracy is a fifth grade teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour.

Working on the dairy farm over the years prevented the family from being able to travel.

“When she eventually retires, whenever that is, I plan to spend more time with her,” he said. “At that time, we might travel. I know we want to see state parks and national parks. That’s on our bucket list.”

The Stams have four children, which also include Heather and Eric, and nine grandchildren.

“I intend to spend as much time with all of them as I can,” Keith said.

Mirer has worked with animal shelters since Christmas 1997, and she plans to continue that and also help organizations transport and care for rescues.

Stam and Mirer also are in the German band Schulhaus 4+3 and plan to perform at the Jackson County Fair and Seymour Oktoberfest this year.

Fellow band member Russ Smith has retired as a band director, too. He was the SMS band director before Mirer, and then he went to Shelbyville High School. His daughter will be his successor.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Stam file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Keith Stam

Age: 62

Hometown: Columbus

Residence: Seymour

Education: Columbus East High School (1977); Indiana University (bachelor’s degree in music education with a concentration in voice, 1981; Master of Science in education, 1988)

Occupation: Recently retired as the choir director at Seymour Middle School, wrapping up a 38-year career in education

Family: Wife, Tracy Stam; children, Heidi Lawrence, Heather (Carlos) Florido, Eric Stam and Katie (Brian) Irk; grandchildren, Paige, Breanna and Noah Lawrence, Elizabeth, Isabella and A.J. Florido and Charlotte, Rose and Wrigley Irk

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Mirer file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Ellen Mirer

Age: 60

Hometown: Yorktown

Residence: Seymour

Education: Yorktown High School (1979); Ball State University (bachelor’s degree in music education, 1983; master’s degree in music education, 1989); Indiana University (master’s degree in counseling, 1996)

Occupation: Recently retired as the band director at Seymour Middle School, wrapping up a 38-year career in education


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