Jordan Green recaps Roustabout Reunion

by Jordan Green

On Saturday night, I learned a lesson: even the world's best teachers never stop learning.

And their students don’t, either.

On April 6, the local event center was filled to the brim with former members of the Northern Oklahoma College Roustabouts, the school's premiere music ensemble. Everyone was smiling, talking, eating, and even singing. At the center of all the merriment was a one-of-a-kind lady who has devoted her entire life to helping others grow and succeed: Wilma Harman.

Let me tell you about her. Wilma is a veteran music educator who started teaching high school and college students how to sing before she even had a college degree herself. Beginning her career at Braman Public Schools in 1965, the beloved musical matriarch built up the school's choir program before Bill Heilmann, the founder of the NOC Roustabouts, brought her on at the college in 1972.

“The Roustabouts were a dream Bill had, and I got to step in and help,” Harman said.

The group is named after the hard-working men and women of the oilfield called “roustabouts,” who do “just about everything” there is to do in the oilfield.

Heilmann found the name fitting for his own group: the college's talented musicians would sing, dance, play instruments, and set up their own sound and lighting equipment. At their peak, the group did an average of two shows per day.

Wilma played no small part in building the group up.

Soon after being hired, Wilma created The Nocturnes, which came to be the women's ensemble. She also created The Northern Knights, a men's group. (Members of both ensembles were there Saturday to croon her once again with some of their old pieces.)

All of that took place before she even went to college. She obtained a bachelor's degree from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva in 1980, and she obtained her master's degree from Wichita State University 10 years down the road. Wilma taught full-time at NOC until 2002. That year, she went part-time. She later became the piano accompanist at Blackwell High School, where she worked until her retirement in December of 2017.

On Saturday, all of those memories from her life in music came back to her.

The reunion of former Roustabouts one year in the making was held in honor of Wilma's 30-year career with the Roustabouts. Dozens of her former students came from across the country just to catch up with their former teacher. That night, though, Wilma was not the teacher – she was, if anything, the student.

Her former students put together an awe-inspiring performance of songs the Roustabouts have performed through the ages. From gospel favorites like “Praise the Lord” to the Whitney Huston hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” the night's musical tastes evoked laughs, smiles, and tears of joy from the performers, thanking Wilma for the profound impact she had on their lives. One of her students, now a school principal, went on to record nine solo albums. Others have gone on to become professional music ministers and singers.

Of all the things they told her, the most important was that they loved her.

She never really knew that. But she knew that she loved them.

“Here they were, all these kids saying things about me, and I had no earthly idea they even respected anything I had to say,” she said. “One of the most meaningful things that anyone said was what Kelly Spradlin said. He said that I put up with them. I loved them! They were in my class. He talked about what I taught him, and they're things he'll use the rest of his life.”

While the things she taught included several important musical skills, Wilma's lessons went far beyond the ear; they went to the heart. As Megan Meador said, Wilma didn't just give music lessons – she gave “life lessons.”

Those same lessons that Wilma has passed down over the years were given to her by Maude Bryant, whose legacy on the Blackwell High School Music Department is still visible: a scholarship named after her is still given out each year.

“Maude Bryant was my mentor, and both of us now have a scholarship named after us,” Wilma said. “I tried to copy what she did as a teacher.”

Whatever it was that she copied, it worked well. As any of the Roustabouts would tell you – and as I myself can say as one of her students – she truly is an amazing teacher. And a humble one, at that.

On Saturday night, Wilma learned just what a difference she had made in her career. One by one, her former students came up to hug and thank her, saying that it was her teaching that made them into the people they are today.

Wilma called it satisfying to have her former students say what an impact she had on their lives. But well-deserved would be an even better way to describe it.

Wilma, on behalf of all of your students, I thank you for being such an amazing teacher. You taught us how to make beautiful music, but most importantly, you taught us that the best thing we can do in life is to share that music with others. Maybe we will even make friends and a little bit of money doing it.

But of all the friends we make in music, you will always be the greatest one. Learning that lesson is just proof that good teachers never stop learning – and neither do their students.