It's pretty cool to learn that the Chicago White Sox have invited the jazz band from Pleasanton's Thomas Hart Middle School to play the national anthem at an April home game, but what's even cooler is that the band is raising funds to help underprivileged Chicago kids.

"We're hoping to sponsor game tickets for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago and Mercy Home for Boys and Girls," said Erin van der Zee, one of Hart's teachers. "The student council and our leadership classes are asking for donations so the Chicago children can come to the game to hear our fabulous Hart musicians."

Of course, the trip would not be possible without band instructor Dennis Aquilina.

"We take our music students on a trip every year," he said. "They have gone to Disneyland, to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall and to Washington, D.C., where they performed at the Jefferson Memorial."

The April Chicago trip offers an opportunity for the students to give back to others, something Aquilina enjoys doing as a teacher.

"I've been fortunate to have great teachers and mentors in my life and hope in some way to pass on what I've learned to my students," he said.

Aquilina grew up in New York City and knew he wanted to teach music when he was about 13.

"I was inspired by one of my first drum and bugle teachers named Pepe Nataro," he said.


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Aquilina studied music at San Francisco State, San Jose State and with private teachers from the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, finally signing on to teach music in Pleasanton almost two decades ago.

"What I most enjoy about teaching is having the students play and experience all kinds of music and where it can take them," he said. "I also enjoy teaching them the life skills that are possible through music."

To help the Hart students reach their goal of raising $2,300, checks may be made payable to Thomas Hart Middle School (with "Chicago White Sox youth fundraiser" in memo line) and sent to Erin van der Zee c/o Thomas Hart Middle School, 4433 Willow Road, Pleasanton, CA 94588. Email any questions to Erin at evanderzee@pleasantonusd.net.

Goodbye to ken mercer: Pleasanton was saddened last month at the passing of Ken Mercer, who at age 71 lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

I got to know Ken when we served together on the board of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce. I remember initially wondering why a man who had already served from 1976 to 1992 on the City Council and as mayor would want to give even more of his time to community service.

But that was Ken. He cared. He enjoyed people. He wanted to make a difference. At his memorial service, hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye and to celebrate with Ken's family the life of this man who helped to shape the Pleasanton we love today.

Thanks Ken. We'll miss you.

Contact Jim Ott at jimott@sbcglobal.net.