Retired teacher finds solace in music

Former Rock Bridge teacher has played the organ all his life.
Michael Bancroft, 65, plays a hymn during a Sunday morning church service at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Columbia. Bancroft, a Vietnam veteran, has played the organ at the church for more than 25 years.

Between his lifelong passion for music and his career as a literature teacher, Michael Bancroft could be described as a Renaissance man.

Bancroft, 65, has a deep appreciation for the arts and has played the organ most of his life.

Before he retired, Bancroft worked at Rock Bridge High School, where he primarily taught 11th grade English from the time the school opened in 1973 until 2000. After he left Rock Bridge, Bancroft went on to assist in teacher preparation at Central Methodist University until 2007.

Bancroft said his fondest memory of teaching was his students. Although his job wasn't always easy and he sometimes became frustrated, it let him connect with others on a deeply personal level.

"Teaching is dealing with people as people," Bancroft said. "It's not like a doctor with bedside manner. It's more like a nurse."

Bancroft hasn't always led such a relaxed life. At the age of 25, he was drafted to serve a tour of duty in Vietnam. As a member of the military police in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in what was then Saigon, capitol of South Vietnam. Bancroft said he was removed from the worst of the fighting, though he wanted to be out in the "boonies" with other soldiers. With his tour lasting only five months and Bancroft being older than most soldiers, he said he was able to appreciate the country and people of Vietnam.

"You just wanted some of them as neighbors," he said.

Bancroft returned to teaching after the war, and for more than 25 years he has played the organ at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia.

Associate Pastor Kathie Jackson said Bancroft has carried his love of teaching into the church.

"He has a great mind that is always open to learning and discovery and thinking of music both from the viewer's perspective as well as theological."

Bancroft learned to play piano and organ as a child, and though he said he had no exemplary talent, his teacher found him work at several churches. Bancroft continued to play after he stopped taking classes.

Bancroft said his love of music led him to his wife, Mary Bancroft, 61, who plays organ at First Christian Church. He said they first became acquainted with one another in church choir when they were growing up. They have now been married for more than 40 years.

Bancroft said he is glad of the mutual interest he shares with his wife because it keeps the couple from resenting the time spent away from home for church duties. He said his two children, Alan Bancroft, 32, and Anna Walters, 29, were "dragged to the churches" in their youth. Bancroft said he instilled his love for music in them.

First Presbyterian Church Pastor Dick Ramsey said Bancroft cares about his job and takes it seriously.

"He's interested in music and wanting the message of the music to be conveyed perfectly," Ramsey said.

Bancroft said he has no favorite piece to play during church, and he tries to play different music every week. He said all the music he plays must pass his set criteria, which means it was written to play in a church or it has merit to be played in church.

He said he plays music from all time periods and styles, from contemporary to classical, and he hopes the members of the congregation are able to realize that in a year, they will have heard music from many different cultures and times.

Bancroft said he lives a life that lets him do what he loves and he thanks God for it.

"I live a very blessed life," he said.

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