Dr. Gus Lease, a beloved faculty member of San Jose State University who taught music for 66 years in the College of Humanities and Arts School of Music and Dance, passed away on Sept 4. He was 93.
A celebration of life for Dr. Gus Lease will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, at 1 p.m. in the Concert Hall (Music 176) at SJSU.
“Gus loved San Jose State University and his students, so much so that he simply didn’t want to leave or ever retire,” said Janet Averett, the associate director of Music and Dance at SJSU.
Even after his retirement and attainment of emeritus professor status, Lease continued to teach in the School of Music and Dance, as well as the history department.
Averett first met Lease in 1986, when he was chair of the music department. Lease had hired her straight out of graduate school from the University of Michigan. Averett said that she was young and felt alone after her cross-country move.
“I was very appreciative of the hospitality that he and his wife Lois displayed in having me over for dinner at their lovely home in the east San Jose foothills,” she said. “He was always very supportive of me.”
Before coming to SJSU in 1950, Lease taught vocal music at the University of Colorado and the University of Oklahoma. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Morningside College, a master’s in music from the University of Colorado, and his Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.
Throughout his years at SJSU, Lease was dedicated to expanding musical opportunities on campus. He organized and directed a 350-voice chorale ensemble in 1950, which performed many oratorios and cantatas. In 1955, he founded the first Men’s Glee Club at the university. Lease served as chair of the Department of Music from 1982-1989.
Lease raised many Spartan spirits with his rendition of the alma mater “Hail, Spartans Hail,” along with the national anthem, through the years. He performed as vocal soloist at more than 63 homecoming football games and 65 commencement ceremonies.
“Gus was a loyal Spartan who was dedicated to enhancing SJSU through music,” said Provost Andy Feinstein. “He always brought a smile to my face when I saw him because of his enthusiasm and his good-natured sense of humor.”
The Director of the School of Music and Dance, Fred Cohen, added, “Gus was a direct link to the storied and proud past of the Department of Music at SJSU. He often shared memorabilia from his days as professor and chair, from newspaper articles about the new music building in the 1950s to his personal minutes from faculty meetings in the 1960s-70s. Gus always had a story to tell, and I inevitably walked away from a conversation with a greater sense of the wonderful and life-changing accomplishments achieved during the long history of music at SJSU.”
Averett said, “I especially admired the fact that nothing ever seemed to get him down,” noting that he bounced back after a serious car accident left him with hip injuries that affected him for the rest of this life. “He proudly walked to his office and classroom every day he was on campus, even with the aid of a walker, always with a smile.”
Beyond campus, Lease remained active in his craft. He was a member of the San Francisco Opera Company, and for 17 years he produced “The Gus Lease Show,” which performed on military bases throughout the world. He was the music director of the San Jose downtown Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years, and served as music director at many churches.
Lease’s community service extended beyond music. He was past president of the Tennessee Ernie Ford Chapter of the Air Force Association and past vice president of the Santa Clara County Navy League. His awards include “National Outstanding Professor” from Vector Marketing, as well as awards from the Department of the Army. He was active in the California Faculty Association, California State Employees Association, California Teachers Association, California State Retirees, and the National Education Association.
For more information about the celebration of life scheduled for October 1, please call the School of Music and Dance Office at 408-924-4673.