David Zerbe, director of bands and percussion studies at Alma College, is the first ever non-Alma College alum to be inducted into the Order of the Golden Thistle.
The Golden Thistle Society is an acknowledgement of alumni loyalty and is typically an honor given to those that attend their 50-year class reunion at Alma College. For context, the thistle is a historic symbol and the national flower of Scotland.
Alumni are seen proudly wearing their pins of the Golden Thistle post induction at campus events and throughout Homecoming weekends.
“Being inducted into the Golden Thistle Society is truly an honor. It is humbling to know that people feel so strongly about your contributions to the life of Alma College that they believe you [are] worthy of an Honor reserved for Alma Alumni,” said David Zerbe, the inductee.
Zerbe was presented with the honor of being inducted into the Order of the Golden Thistle at the Kiltie Marching Band centennial celebration. Many of his accolades were mentioned, but above all, the description of his character is what stood out to most.
“I attended the centennial as an outside volunteer with the Student Advancement Association but listening to all of the remarks about Professor Zerbe made it very clear he was very deserving of this award,” said Ryan Gray (‘25).
“He has modeled exceptional qualities in leadership, dedication, kindness and compassion and just going with the flow. As I approach graduation and will be getting my own degree in teaching . . . Zerbe is somebody I look up to and hope I can be as impactful of an educator as he is,” said Kayla Keopf (‘23), student of Alma College and Senior Drum Major.
Along with being director of bands and percussion studies, Zerbe is also the Paul Cameron Russel Professor of Music. This is an Alma College prestige and an endowed professorship in honor of the late Paul Cameron Russel.
Since starting his career at Alma College in 1988, Zerbe has earned many awards. He received the Outstanding Faculty Award for the Humanities in 2011. He was also the Faculty Barlow Award recipient in 2013.
Not only is Zerbe a distinguished Alma College faculty member, but he is also a distinguished member of the music community outside of Alma College.
According to the Alma College website, Zerbe is a founding member of the internationally acclaimed DMP recording group and the Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble and he has performed with many different organizations.
Although there are many, a limited number of these organizations include the Midland, Saginaw, Traverse City and West Shore symphonies in which Zerbe was a profound percussionist.
Furthermore, Zerbe is an active free-lance musician who has appeared with Aretha Franklin, Peter Ruth, Michael Feinstein and many other renowned musicians.
More about Zerbe’s accolades, accomplishments and directee groups can be found on the Alma College website. Additionally, it has been noted that Zerbe presents his students with amazing and unique musical opportunities.
“He . . . gave me the opportunity to cover the vocal part on saxophone for the song ‘Afro Blue’ for the Alma College Percussion Ensemble,” said Jack Letica (‘24), a student studying instrumental performance and vice president of Phi Mu Alpha, a music centered fraternity.
“He has worked extremely hard in his care for teaching students. From the moment I met Zerbe, I could tell he had a great passion for music. I believe he understands and supports my efforts to go further into music and develop a career by giving me these opportunities,” said Letica.
It is clear that Zerbe has made an impact on the Alma College campus, community and beyond, and it is exciting to anticipate what will come next from the Alma College professor.
“I am looking forward to continuing to build on the strengths of our organizations to foster even more vibrant ensembles, ones that not only bring instrumental music to campus… but also [provide] a window for those not yet acquainted with Alma to experience what Scots can do,” said Zerbe.