A mostly happy man

Jacob Johnson

As the bright lights of The Parlor Room blazed on the stage, the roaring cheers and applause from the crowd filled the room. The guitars were rocking, the basses were booming, and the vocalists were shining. Everyone was cheering for the one thing that brought them to Northampton that fateful evening: the release of Dan Zukergood’s most recent CD: “Mostly Happy Man.”

Amongst the hundreds of thousands of college professors around the world, each one has an extensive background story that makes them who they are, defines their teaching careers, as well as their lives. Only a small percentage of that group possess the positive outlook on life that Springfield College Education Professor Zukergood has. As soon as anyone sees what Zukergood is all about, he sticks out from the crowd.

For the majority of people that have met Zukergood, his positive, kind, and outgoing personality immediately rubs off onto you. He has a way of making anyone feel like they’ve known him for several years, even if they’ve only known him for a few moments. He is among the friendliest and most outgoing people anyone can ever meet.

Zukergood is a college professor, avid musician, and multi-sport athlete. Obviously, that is not the typical combination of careers and hobbies. Many people simply wonder how he can effectively fit in all these activities, and how he has such a wide variety of interests that he is passionate about. “One of the nice things about getting older is you don’t have to do all of the stuff you had to do when you were younger,” said Zukergood. “Right now you’re at the mercy of your professors, your parents, your boss… and when you get older the nice part is I am the boss, I am the father,”

Many athletes do not play sports at the age of 65. Zukergood is the exception, as he is an avid and extremely competitive softball and racquetball player. He tries to play racquetball about three or four times a week at the courts at Springfield College. He competes in multiple softball leagues and is a skilled third baseman. He has played softball for over 50 years, and claims he is “addicted to the game.”

Zukergood takes his teaching very seriously. It’s not hard for anyone to tell that he has a passion for what he does. “I have never met a person that loves teaching more than him,” said Sarah Wadehull, a Springfield College senior and former student of Zukergood. “He really does have a passion for it, and even when we don’t have a class with him anymore, he constantly says ‘please stop by and ask about lesson plans,’ He’s basically our teacher for life.”

A common term used in Zukergood’s classes is the word “extraordinary.” Zukergood believes that every one of his students should strive to be extraordinary, rather than ordinary. “He uses the word ‘extraordinary’ a lot,” said Wadehull. “That’s his whole thing is making extraordinary teachers rather than ordinary teachers.”

“I told Sarah that we already have enough good teachers out there” said Zukergood. “We don’t need any more ordinary teachers, we need extraordinary teachers. It’s easy to be a good teacher. It’s really hard to be an extraordinary teacher”

It’s all about having fun for Zukergood every day. Everything that he does he has a passion for, whether it’s in the classroom, on the field, on the stage, or with the family. “If it’s not fun I just don’t do it anymore,” said Zukergood. “Life is about playing…playing music, playing sports…” .

As far as Zukergood’s memory takes him, he has had a passion for playing music and getting an audience rocking. He has been in several bands from his high school years to the present day, one of his most iconic being “Johnny and the Flashbacks.” It is a band that brings people back to the good old days and most importantly, gets people dancing to the oldies.

Johnny and the Flashbacks will be celebrating their 10 year anniversary in the spring on a date to be determined at the Gateway Arts Center in Holyoke. Due to the recent hurricanes that have ravaged Puerto Rico, and the large Puerto Rican community in Holyoke, all the money raised during this event will be donated to a fund that helps incoming Puerto Ricans get set up financially.

On November 2, Zukergood rocked the stage in Northampton with his most recent CD release party, for “Mostly Happy Man”, a compilation of songs written from his college days, to within the last 10 years. Friends, family, and even students of Zukergood’s were treated to a night of Zukergood’s personally written songs, as well as some classic hits from artists like the Beatles at the The Parlor Room. The room surely wasn’t an arena, but the crowd made it feel like one. Upon entering the moderately small venue, an energy of excitement could be felt amongst the fans, friends, and family of Zukergood. Large amounts of people presented flowers and other gifts to Zukergood, until the point where he had an extensive collection of gifts.

Several of Zukergood’s close friends since as far back as his childhood presented gifts and congratulations. Two of Zukergood’s closest friends, Rich Michelson and Bill Paglia-Scheff , took the stage prior to the show to show their appreciation for Zukergood by presenting a gift: a framed picture of Zukergood with a guitar. The two friends also expressed their appreciation for all that Zukergood has done for them. “Zukergood is a man of great love and great passion,” said Paglia-Scheff.

“He’s just about the most happy man I’ve ever met,” added Michelson.

As the night officially got started, a rhythmic clapping filled the room, and Zukergood took the stage and uttered the phrase: “All I can say is, ‘Oh my God.’” Zukergood took care of the rest of the night as he debuted his cover song: “Most Happy Man,” an upbeat song about doing what makes you happy in life. As evening progressed the songs continued, as did the volume of the crowd. Some songs were upbeat and mostly intended to get heart rates racing with a catchy rhythm, other songs were slowed down and had powerful lyrics that told a story in Zukergood’s life. Huge applause and cheers following every song made it a special evening.

“Now that it’s over, it was truly one of the best nights of my life, one of the most exciting, amazing exciting nights of my life, to be surrounded by friends, family, students who love me and to have the birth of my CD happen right in front of everyone,” said Zukergood. “It  was truly like giving birth.”

Unfortunately, there is a backstory to the “-ly” section of  “Mostly Happy Man”. Two songs on his CD in particular, Look What You’ve Done and You’re Checking Out, have a significant, unfortunate meaning. About 15 years ago, Zukergood’s close friend and neighbor Gary Reiter unexpectedly committed suicide. The two families had been very close friends for several years, so close to the point where each family would walk into the other family’s house spontaneously just to get away from their own families for a little while. Zukergood and Reiter had played in bands together and were very close friends.

Following Reiter’s tragic death, his former wife gave Zukergood his guitar, which he played at the funeral. Following the funeral, Zukergood found it emotionally hard to play the guitar, so it sat in the case for a long while. Zukergood turned to therapy after some time to help cope with his loss, and one day following a therapy session, all of Zukergood’s built up anger for the whole situation broke free, and he played the guitar again, and wrote the song “Look What You’ve Done.”

“I wrote ‘Look What You’ve Done’ in ten minutes, and it’s the best song I’ve ever written,” said Zukergood.

But Zukergood has not let that tragic moment slow down his love for life. Through the mostly happy times and the not-so-happy times, Zukergood has maintained the positive attitude that he is known so well for. His positivity and passion for his life and others’ lives will always be a comfort to all of Zukergood’s friends, family, and students.

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