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Harry Wenger Band Festival, owatonna, 2024
As the grand marshal, Joe Zastrow gives a thumbs up in Saturday’s Wenger Band Festival Parade in Owatonna. Staff photo by Rick Bussler
Long-time music teacher honored at band parade
Rick Bussler, Publisher
Hot Pursuit, Rick Bussler

For decades he has been committed to music in Owatonna. And last week Joe Zastrow was honored for his dedication as the grand marshal of the Wenger Band Festival Parade.

Zastrow, who has been the band director at Owatonna Middle School for 26 years, says he was honored and surprised to be chosen as the grand marshal—something he’s never done before.

“Every parade I’ve ever been in I’ve marched,” he said, noting he was in his high school marching band back home in central Wisconsin.

As Zastrow got out of the convertible to sit in the bleachers and watch the bands march by, he related about the enjoyment he gets out of watching teenagers perform, especially those from Owatonna’s marching band. Most of them would have had him in middle school.

“I am proud of them,” he said. “It’s nice to see them working hard together and putting together such a nice show. It’s always amazing.”

In middle school, Zastrow prepares young musicians for marching and other musical performances by hammering home the fundamentals, including how to correctly hold instruments and make them sound right.

Zastrow teaches music lessons and directs the sixth, seventh and eighth grade bands as well as the Jazz Band. He also hosts a middle level solo and ensemble festival every year that welcomes students from several area schools on band and orchestra instruments.

Outside of school, he is active in several performing groups ranging from symphonic orchestras to big bands, to pit orchestras and a rock band playing trombone, guitar or bass guitar. Groups and theaters that he has performed in include Austin Big Band, Southern Minnesota Real Big Band, Austin Community Jazz, Little Theatre of Owatonna, Paradise Theatre, Glenn Miller Orchestra and Owatonna Symphonic Orchestra.

If you’d like a chance to hear him perform, he will be playing guitar with the Swerve band on Aug. 16 in the Beer Garden at the Steele County Free Fair. The band features country to heavy metal.

Prior to coming to Owatonna, he worked as a band director in Texas and served three years in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Neu Ulm Germany where he worked with the Pershing II nuclear weapon system, a chapter of his life underscored by discipline and duty.

Zastrow finds some time away from music. He’s a tech enthusiast where he tinkers with his computer gaming rig or maintaining his collection of vintage computers from the 80s and 90s.

He also finds solace in the tranquility of nature, particularly at his cherished cabin on the banks of the Wisconsin River where he surrounds himself with loved ones and loyal dogs.

But perhaps the most pride comes from teaching young people music and watching them grow into marching band among other things. “It certainly shows teamwork and develops a good sense of work ethic,” he says of marching band.

While he’ll be on summer break for several weeks, Zastrow will be in hot pursuit once again of firing up the beginner program in early August to create another wave of talented musicians.

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