Mr. Rombilus, A Great Role Model, A Great Loss – Letter from the Editor

Report by Paula Antolini, May 16, 2019, 6:46PM EDT


The passing of Thomas A. Rombilus on May 14, 2019 marks the end of an era. He was a genuine dedicated teacher through and through and a superior human being, who dedicated his entire life to teaching, in the same school. How does one describe this gentle man whose sole aim in life seemed to be to make others happy, open their eyes to the wonders of music, and have them achieve their best while enjoying life to the fullest? Mr. Rombilus you did well. Surely you proudly sport your angel wings now because you wore them on earth, but they were invisible. You touched many with your love and kindness and it carries on.

Mr. Rombilus dedicated his life to music, teaching music for 40 years in Bethel Middle School. He loved his students so so much, and he gave oh-so-much more in character, guidance, friendship, and inspiration. Words do not suffice in describing this special man.

I once interviewed Mr. Rombilus and asked him, “What is your most memorable moment in teaching?” I expected him to tell me about a student who improved greatly in playing a musical instrument after his instruction, but no, the charming Mr. Rombilus told me about a time he was walking in the school hallway and he saw a student holding a large snake at the other end of the hallway. He said he was extremely afraid of snakes and could not walk the other way fast enough. Odd what makes an imprint in the mind, but this stood out to him.

Mr. Rombilus began teaching at the Bethel Middle School (BMS) around 1974, as a part-time 6th Grade music teacher, according to the late Pete Kemp, who was was a nationally recognized industrial arts teacher at Bethel Middle School where he taught for over 30 years, who called Mr. Rombilus “music teacher extraordinaire.” Mr. Rombilus eventually became full time, Kemp said, teaching in Bethel Middle School which included 6th, 7th and 8th grades. BMS was so over-crowded at the time, Johnson School had not opened yet, and many teachers were “floaters” having no permanent classroom, Kemp said. Every period they had to move to a different room somewhere in the building with their materials, said Kemp, “This was a most disruptive system. Rather than lug a piano down the hall, not too practical, Mr. Rombilus had an ace up his sleeve, he also played the accordion.”

Kemp said, “Mr. Rombilus’ first room was across the hall from the Industrial Arts rooms, in the basement of the old wing. His classroom eventually was moved upstairs, next to Mr. Appacelli’s Guidance Office. In the new BMS the Music Department now has a suite of rooms. In addition to his class teaching, Mr. Rombilus coached baseball, and was director of many Chorus groups.” 

Mr. Rombilus was loved by many and was simply a charming gentleman and a gentle soul, besides being a great teacher.  Students remember him long after they’ve moved on to college and beyond. He inspired all that is good in people.

Mr. Rombilus shared a letter with me in 2014 that he had received from one of his students, who was now a music teacher himself, a letter that Mr. Rombilus treasured very much. I had permission from Mr. Rombilus and the writer to publish it:

“I doubt you would remember me. If you do its most likely because I was a pain in the butt. I once ran around your room in the basement with a fire extinguisher. I was an idiot. A middle school teacher now for 17 years, I can only imagine how anyone could stand me! I remember however what a great teacher you were … and you were kind of new. You were “cool” and my passion for all things musical was nourished in your class. Singing Beatle’s songs in class is one of a few positive MS memories. I think of you often as I walk through the hallways where I teach 8th grade US History…especially when I pass the music room. Thank you so much. You were a bright spot every day for a kid who really was struggling and I have never forgotten it. Keep on Keeping it on MR. R! Regards, Pete Rosato, Class of 1979″

My memories of Mr. Rombilus are short but powerful, mostly from 2012 through 2014 when he was my daughter’s music teacher. In those years he organized a Chopin Music Piano Competition each year, in celebration of Chopin’s birthday.

His creation of the Chopin Music Piano Competition for Bethel Middle School was just one of his great accomplishments.  Students were exposed to Chopin music that they most likely never would have learned if it were not for Mr. Rombilus. The discipline the students had to display to learn the Chopin piece in a few months time, besides performing a music piece of their own choosing, and performing in front of several judges, was amazing to watch and Mr. Rombilus was the catalyst. He made the event professional, educational, exciting and thrilling for the students and all those involved. He made students love music. He made students love to learn about music. He opened their eyes, ears and hearts to the magic of music and learning. At the same time he was smiling and joyful, caught up in the excitement of the moment that we all shared and that he created.

If ever anyone should be honored for their contribution in education and music it should be Mr. Rombilus, who gave his entire life and touched our hearts.

We love you Mr. Rombilus. You will be missed.

Paula Antolini, Editor, Bethel Advocate