Wallace Umber, a World War II veteran and former director of the Santa Monica College Emeritus Band, died age 96 from Covid-19 complications leaving behind a legacy as a father and devoted teacher.
Umber’s friends and family said he faced many adversities in his life and always rose above with patience, grace, and an ever even-keeled demeanor.
Even during his final months living in social isolation at a retirement home, Umber would play his trumpet out of his window bringing soulful music and joy to his fellow isolated residents.
“He was a wonderful, kind, caring, loving father, and he taught and mentored so many others through his gift of music, leaving this world in a much better place than it was before,” said son Dennis Umber.
In October 1943 at just 19-years-old, Umber boarded a boat in New York City and journeyed to France where he served as an M1 Rifle Sharpshooter on the frontlines of WWII.
Umber fought in Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. He landed on the shores of Normandy on day two of the D-Day Invasion and stood in Germany when victory was declared.
For his service and selflessness of the highest degree, Umber was honorably discharged in November 1945 and awarded the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and Victory Medal.
Following the war Umber returned home to Redlands, California where he had been raised by his aunt and grandmother since his mother died after giving birth to his younger sister Wanda when he was five-years-old.
Umber’s father taught him the trumpet when he was just a toddler, sparking a lifelong love for brass music that he passed on to his three sons Dennis, Darryl, and Donn.
With funding from the GI Bill, Umber enrolled as a music major at the University of Santa Barbara where he met and married June Keene. Umber soon took a job as the Music Director at Venice High School and the couple moved to Venice in 1951.
“As a music teacher he taught us the importance of practice and consistency and brought love and enjoyment of the fine arts into our lives,” said Dennis. “There are so many people who were touched by his gift of music and the richness that imparts into a young person’s life stays with them forever.”
After seven years at Venice High, Umber launched the music program at Emerson Junior High School where he remained until his retirement in 1986.
Umber taught many young students who went on to have illustrious careers including Michael Jackson for a brief period of time and Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis & The Playboys.
“During the years that he taught in the district he was just an icon. He was a wonderful mentor to so many of us and a real encyclopedia of music, particularly of brass music,” said former co-worker and close friend Sue Edwards. “Wally was just a wonderful, generous, very self-effacing guy.”
In 1968, Umber founded a community band with the Venice High Community Adult School, which he brought to Santa Monica College in 1979 where it became the Emeritus Concert Band. Umber nurtured and directed the band for four decades until handing over leadership in 2008 at age 84.
“All of our success today is solely due to his kindness, fortitude and musicianship,” said Emeritus clarinet player and close friend Fred Warner. “There are not enough words to describe the quality gentleman and kind person he was.”
In 1969, Umber married Carol Holle and gained three daughters: Suzanne, Holly, and Heidi. Umber leaves behind four grandsons, three granddaughters, five great grandsons, and two great granddaughters.
Umber was deeply devoted to his children and grandchildren and shared both his love of music and of the outdoors with them through lessons, concerts, hiking and camping trips.
“This wonderful man lived an amazing life, characterized by love of family, humility, a higher regard for others than himself, a gentle, patient, kind, non judgmental spirit and a legacy of music that he passed on to countless others,” said Dennis.
Wallace will receive full military honors for his service in WWII at the Los Angeles National Cemetery at a ceremony on what would have been his 97th birthday in May. Dennis will be playing Taps in his honor.