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2018 Educators of the Year: Anja Firchow, Marla Janak, Michael Hench

Congratulations to Schmitt Music’s 2017-2018 EDUCATORS OF THE YEAR: Anja Firchow, Marla Janak, and Michael Hench!

In an effort to recognize the work of outstanding school music educators in the Midwest, Schmitt Music and the SDC (Schmitt Director Center) set out to find the best of the best. We honor exceptional educators in three categories: elementary, middle school, and high school.

A big THANK YOU to all the music education colleagues and students who took time to nominate and recognize teachers in their schools. All of our deserving nominees show a dedication to music education that is truly inspirational. Get to know a bit about the 2018 Educator of the Year award winners below:

Anja Firchow

East Lake Elementary, Highland Elementary & Cedar Park Elementary | ISD 196, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan | Eagan, MN

Anja MerzweilerAnja Merzweiler Firchow has taught in District 196, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, for 21 years. For the past 11 years, she has worked with beginning band students. Anja holds degrees from the University of Minnesota in Instrumental Music Education (B.M.) and K-6 Elementary Education (MA). While at the University of Minnesota, she studied French horn with Kendall Betts and later with Herb Winslow.

Anja is the band teacher at District 196’s newly opened elementary school, East Lake. She is also one of the instrumental music educators at Highland Elementary and Cedar Park Elementary.

Anja lives in Rosemount with her husband, Joel, two children, Aidan (14) and Ayla (10), and two golden retrievers, April and Zeus. They spend most of each summer with family on Lake Vermillion.

Marla Janak

Springfield Platteview Community School District | Springfield, NE

Marla JanakMarla Janak is in her 28th year of instrumental teaching. Currently, she is in her 19th year as band director in the Springfield Platteview Community School District. Previously, Marla taught instrumental music in Anita, IA and Lewis Central Schools in Council Bluffs, IA. While teaching at Lewis Central, her 6th grade elementary band was one of two elementary bands selected to perform at a Spring Iowa Bandmasters Association Convention held in Des Moines, IA.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education from Midland Lutheran College and a Masters of Arts degree in Trumpet Performance from the University of Iowa along with 36 more graduate credits in music technology and music education. Marla’s main focus at Platteview is in grades 6-8 but she also assists where needed in the high school program. Marla is a member of NSBA and NMEA. She is currently in her 5th year serving as the NSBA Middle Level Rep.

Besides teaching band she also works with students in her home trumpet studio and plays trumpet with several local area dance bands. Marla and her husband Rich live on an acreage in Papillion, Nebraska and have one son Jared.

Michael Hench

Roosevelt High School | Sioux Falls, SD

Michael HenchMichael Hench is a graduate of the University of South Dakota where he earned his Bachelor’s of Music Education degree. He is currently in his 18th year teaching and his 8th year as Director of Bands at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, SD. Previously he taught at Centennial High School in Circle Pines, MN and spent 8 years as the 5-12 Instrumental Music Director in Pipestone, MN. Mr. Hench also served as the director of the Mankato Area 77 Lancers Marching Band from 2010-2012.

During Mr. Hench’s tenure at Roosevelt the band program has expanded to become the most comprehensive program in South Dakota. The program offers students opportunities in numerous ensembles including 4 Concert Bands, 3 Jazz Bands, Jazz Combo, Woodwind Choir, Brass Choir, Percussion Ensemble, Solo/Ensemble Contest, Pep Band, Marching Band and WGI Winter Color Guard and Drumline. The students are also able to take Music Theory and AP Music Theory.

He is currently active in South Dakota Band Masters, Phi Beta Mu, NAfME and serves as the Director of the Mid-West Ambassadors of Music. Past affiliations have included the Waseca Area Big Band, the International Trumpet Guild, Brassworks and the Mid-American Competing Band Directors Association.

Over his career Mr. Hench’s Symphonic Bands have annually received Superior Ratings in Division I literature at both the Minnesota State and South Dakota State High School League Large Group Contests. Bands under his direction have traveled nationally to the Cherry Festival in Traverse City, MI; The Universal Studios “Lights, Camera, Action” Parade and Walt Disney World Magic Music Days in Orlando, FL; the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.; the Rosefest Parade in Portland, OR and the Greely 4th of July Parade and the Estes Park Rooftop Rodeo Parade in CO. Internationally, he has traveled with bands to the Calgary Stampede Parade and World Show Band Championships in Calgary, Canada; the MACBDA National Championships in Regina, Canada; as well as numerous locations in England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Mr. Hench was the winner of the 2009 American School Band Directors Association Distinguished Young Band Directors Award for the state of Minnesota. He is a member of the Conn-Selmer VIP Program and was recently selected to the US Army All-American Director’s Institute.


Again, Schmitt Music would like to say thank you to everyone who participated, and congratulations to all of the educators who were nominated in 2017-2018:


  • Molly Jones – Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School, Mound, MN
  • Brenda Copeland – Rue Elementary School, Council Bluffs, IA
  • Anja Firchow – Highland, Cedar Park, and East Lake Elementary School, Lakeville, MN
  • Ryan Palmer – Columbia Academy, Columbia Heights, MN

Middle School

  • Susan Micevych – Dakota Hills Middle School, Eagan, MN
  • Molly Jones – Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School, Mound, MN
  • Marla Janak – Springfield-Platteview Middle School, Springfield, NE
  • Ryan Meyer – Harlan Community Middle School, Harlan, IA
  • Mike Hebert – DaVinci Academy Charter School, Ham Lake, MN
  • Dawn Anderson – Thorp Middle School, Thorp, WI

High School

  • Michael Hench – Roosevelt High School, Sioux Falls, SD
  • Dennis Lindsay – Stillwater Area High School, Oak Park Heights, MN
  • Nora Tycast – Spring Lake Park High School, Spring Lake Park, MN
  • Brian Lukkasson – Spring Lake Park High School, Spring Lake Park, MN
  • Jeff Schoening – Treynor Community School, Treynor, IA
  • Bryn Anderson – Siren High School, Siren, WI
  • Christa Saeger-Dean – Osseo Senior High, Osseo, MN
  • Mary Hanson – Osseo Senior High, Osseo, MN
  • Jonathan Jaworski – Ashland-Greenwood High School, Ashland, NE
  • Jerry Layher – Platteview Senior High, Springfield, NE
  • Mike Reed – Brooklyn Center High School, Brooklyn Center, MN
  • John Furrow – Falls City Senior High School, Falls City, NE