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Remembering 'Mr. A': Hill-Murray's first principal, longtime band director dies

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Francis Asenbrenner, known to generations of students at Maplewood's Hill-Murray High School as "Mr. A," died on New Year's Eve. He was 81.

Frank Asenbrenner was the Catholic school's founding principal and superintendent, and served as its band and choir director and orchestra leader for school musicals.

An obituary on and in the Star Tribune notes Asebrenner was known as "highly energetic and enthusiastic," adding he was "instantly recognizable by his iconic green jacket and beloved for his dedicated and contagious school spirit. 'Mr. A' was the very personification of Hill-Murray that motivated, influenced and positively impacted countless students over the years."

When Hill-Murray celebrated its anniversary in 2011, the Pioneer Press reported that Asenbrenner was a pivotal figure in the school's early years. Hill-Murray was formed in 1971 when Hill High School, an all-boys school, merged with the all-girls Archbishop Murray Memorial High School.

The archdiocese brought in Asenbrenner in 1969 to shepherd the schools through the change and serve as the first leader of the combined institution. Asenbrenner, who sent all eight of his children to Hill-Murray, led the institution through the next three decades.

The Lillie Suburban newspaper says he was inducted into the school's inaugural Hall of Fame in 2011. In addition to his role as principal, Asenbrenner was also the high school's longtime band director and is "remembered for his regular presence at varsity athletic events and state tournaments."

During his tenure at Hill-Murray, Asenbrenner was instrumental in building Hill-Murray's well-regarded high school theater program. In 1979, he expanded the program by adding a community theater division.

A Star Tribune profile noted that Asenbrenner retired from school administration in 1991 but kept directing the choir and bands at the school until 1996.

After retiring from Hill-Murray, Asenbrenner founded Ashland Productions in 1997 with his daughters Barb and Peg and his son-in-law Rob Sutherland. The nonprofit community theater organization is based in Maplewood and has staged dozens of musical productions in the east metro.

MinnPost reported in 2008 that Asenbrenner had suffered a stroke and retired from active participation in the Ashland program but remained "an enthusiastic fan."

A funeral Mass for Asenbrenner will be held Monday, Jan. 5 at the Church of the Assumption in St. Paul.

"He led by example and touched and inspired many," his obituary says. "He was genuinely admired, respected and loved, and will be greatly missed."

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