Campus, community, alumni mourn passing of beloved band director 

Thousands of former students, current students, colleagues, friends, and members of the cycling and roller derby communities are mourning the sudden loss of Pittsburg State University’s Director of Athletic Bands, Doug Whitten, who died Sunday, June 6, after suffering a massive heart attack while riding his bike in Kansas City. 

He was 54. 

A memorial gathering is being planned for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21, in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, where Whitten directed Symphonic Band concerts, summer band concerts, and was the ringleader for an annual Christmas gathering called The Holly Jolly Tubas.

The memorial will be streamed at for those who can’t attend in person.  

Whitten tuba

And, funds are being collected in a GoFundMe organized by drum major Erica Baldwin to install a paver in his honor beneath the gorilla statue in Champions Plaza, which the band paraded past each game day. To date, more than $3,000 has been raised, far surpassing the $400 goal. 

Whitten first year

Known as a person who embraced life to the fullest, and nearly always wore a smile, Whitten was a professor in the Department of Music for nearly 19 years, specializing in low brass.  

He directed the PSU Pride of the Plains Marching Band — one of the most diverse and largest student organizations on campus, with an average membership of 150 students from majors across campus. But he broke from the norm as band directors go — perhaps best known for wearing Converse and tattoos, he often did push-ups with the ROTC cadets after touchdowns and roller skated beside the band in Homecoming and Christmas parades.

Whitten skates 

He also instilled in every student a mantra in which they believed whole-heartedly and still reference years after graduating.  

His signature: 

“Band 10-hut,” he would say to call the band to attention after every performance. 

“Who’s the best band in the land?” he would yell. 

“Pitt State!” the band would yell back. 

Over the years, that band culture would not just serve as a recruiting tool — it added excitement and color to the game day experience at Carnie Smith Stadium, noted alumni. Many returned to march with the band during Homecoming at Whitten’s invitation. Several went on to become band directors themselves, putting into practice techniques and strategies he used.  

Whitten alumni

In an outpouring on social media after learning of his death, they used words like “mentor,” “surrogate father,” and "motivator.” 

Tom Lawlor (BME '17), an elementary music teacher in Kansas City who also performs in Back Alley Brass Band in Kansas City, said Whitten “supported and loved us beyond the classroom or marching field. He really wanted to see us succeed.”  

“Just a couple months ago, he came to Back Alley’s album party and bought the first round for all of us to catch up on. He became more than a professor — Doug was a friend,” Lawlor said. 

Connor Callahan (BME ‘15), assistant director of bands at Platte County, Missouri, High School and Middle School, said Whitten "was such an inspirational part of my life and was that for countless others.” 

“His positivity and exuberance were enchanting and inspiring. He made marching band and pep band at Pitt State one of the best experiences of my life,” said Callahan, who was a drum major and section leader. “I will forever be grateful to him for being such a tremendous example of how to enjoy life and inspire others.” 

Whitten field

Whitten rehearsal

Many former students expressed gratitude for the individual attention he showed them, both on and off the field. For three weeks, he engineered a harness to carry a horn for Stephanie Robinson, who was born with a cyst on her brain that affected her motor skills on the right side of her body. She wound up marching without it but appreciated his effort. 

Department Chair Susan Marchant described him as "a cherished colleague and friend as well as an extraordinary teacher and director of the athletic bands.” His contributions to the programs of the Department of Music were numerous and multi-faceted, she said.  

“His infectious energy and boundless creativity inspired the students of the marching band to shine at every moment on game days, and to earn their well-deserved reputation as the best band in the land. He always brought a fresh and thoughtful perspective to any discussions or proposals that were being considered. We are deeply grateful for his years among us, and our thoughts are with his family at this most difficult time,” she said. 

Among his accomplishments: 

• In 2011, he took the Pride of the Plains to Alabama to perform in the National Championship football game — a game PSU won.  

• In 2012, he directed the band in recording music for the Hollywood film “The Campaign,” starring Will Farrell, with his friend Chris Fogel, an award-winning recording engineer and producer. 

• In 2016, he led the Mid America All-Star Marching Band, comprised of students from 10 area high schools, to march in the 2016 National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.

• Each summer that the Shrine Bowl has been held in Pittsburg, he has directed the 150+ member All-State Shrine Bowl Marching Band. (He was set to do so again this July; instead, colleague Andrew Chybowski, assistant professor of music, will step in.) 

• For several years, he brought Drum Corps International shows to Carnie Smith Stadium — in his youth, Whitten had marched in DCI.

• He directed the basketball pep band for many years. 

Whitten derby

Whitten also owned a mobile bicycle repair shop, The Wheel Doctor KC; was a road rider; frequently hit trails near and far on his mountain bike; and was active in the roller derby community as a coach, referee, and competitor. Upon learning of his death, numerous cyclists and roller derby leagues took to social media to mourn the passing of “Wheelzebub.” 

Prior to his appointment at PSU, he was the associate director of athletic bands at Boise State University, directed the marching band at the University of Dayton, and taught public school bands in Idaho, and Nevada. 

He earned a bachelor’s in tuba performance from the University of Nevada, Reno, a master’s in music from Boise State University, and a doctorate in education from Boise State University. Right out of high school, he served in the U.S. Army, and was in Berlin when the wall came down.  

He performed worldwide as a member of U.S. Army bands, and as a musician with several professional orchestras in the U.S. and in Europe, in jazz ensembles, chamber groups, and with popular entertainers including Moody Blues and Captain and Tennille. 

Whitten ensemble

He was a member of the International Tuba and Euphonium Association (formerly T.U.B.A.), Kappa Kappa Psi Honorary Band Fraternity, College Music Society, College Band Directors National Association, Music Educator's National Conference, Kansas Bandmasters Association, and the Northwest Pageantry Judges Association.  

Whitten SAI

He was a proud honorary member of the PSU chapter of the women’s music fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota, and was referred to by its members as “Sister Doug.” 

Whitten is survived by his fiancé, Kristie Browns, and two children, Elliot and Catcher, of Boise, Idaho.