Remembering Charlie Bates

West pays tribute to Charlie Bates ’25.


Photo courtesy of Bates family

This photo of Charlie Bates ’25 was taken in the summer of 2021 when he performed in Seussical: The Musical.

It was the fall of 2021, and the show choir season had just begun. Freshmen Charlie Bates and Claire Lawler walked to Java House before their afternoon show band rehearsal to grab coffee and sandwiches. The day was cold and windy, but the company Claire and Charlie provided one another was enough to overlook the weather.

“It’s not that short of a walk, so I gave [Charlie] my hat because he never had any layers — he always had a sweatshirt, always too warm at the wrong times. He held out his AirPods to me once we sat down and we basically just listened to these guitar solos over and over and he showed me his favorite ones,” Lawler said. “I remember I went to get something and I came back and I just kind of looked at him because he was on the couch and he closed his eyes, kind of tapping his foot and stuff like that, and it felt really nice to see him just peaceful.”

Music was one of the things Charlie loved most about the world. He learned a variety of instruments, ranging from guitar to trumpet to tuba. He constantly practiced them, each  providing him with something novel and unique. Because of his talent, it is no surprise that Charlie was involved in all things music, including show band, symphonic jazz band, pit band and Young Footliters — a youth-centered theater organization at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts. Band director Rob Medd noticed Charlie’s passion and asked him to play tuba for the freshman band.

“We didn’t have a tuba in the freshman band. Charlie didn’t hesitate for 10 seconds when I asked [him to play it],” Medd said. “He was definitely up for the challenge and wanted to take it on and wanted to help out the band.”

Photo courtesy of Bates family

Charlie was constantly looking for ways to help out. According to Medd, he always wanted what was best for the group, whether that be in picking up the tuba in the freshman band or helping others build confidence in the jazz band.

“I was having a little trouble getting people to want to play and improvise solos in jazz band. I asked Charlie [to play a solo] and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do a solo at this point or on this tune,’” Medd said. “For our rehearsals during January, [he was] playing solos, and that kind of helped break the ice for other people. I started getting more people who wanted to try [solos].”

Confidence was one of the many things people noticed about Charlie. He was never afraid to put himself out there or be himself. It was what helped him take on any challenges that arose; Charlie was never one to shy away.

“He was a kid who came in not knowing anything about the stage, not knowing how to perform, not knowing if he was going to be any good,” said CCPA Managing Director Evan Hilsabeck. “Over those four productions that I worked with him, each time, I wondered ‘Okay, here’s a bigger challenge. Can Charlie carry it? Can Charlie carry the whole opening of the show? Or the lead role?’ And he always could; he always rose to the challenge. He was game for anything.”

Charlie was also an expert at making everyone around him feel welcome. He was kind by nature and never one to judge others. 

Everybody was welcome in Charlie’s world — and it mattered. It mattered to a lot of kids.

— Evan Hilsabeck

“Teenagers can be cliquey and unwelcoming or difficult, especially for younger kids. That was never true of Charlie. When Marcia, his younger sister, joined the program, we always found the two of them together; that’s something that you don’t always see with siblings,” Hilsabeck said. “That was true of the way he interacted with kids from everywhere: from different schools, from different backgrounds, different ages. Everybody was welcome in Charlie’s world — and it mattered. It mattered to a lot of kids.”

Charlie was a friend to all. Anyone who encountered him bore witness to his unique energy; he never failed to keep spirits high.

“He had this infectious smile and was just a great person to be around. He was always there to make someone laugh or bring the mood out,” said show band member Charles Jetton ’22. “He was always laughing along with other people and poking fun at some of the small things other band members did. Just little things keeping us all together almost.”

Jokes were always Charlie’s friend. It was one of the many qualities that made him charming.

“Anyone who knew him knew he had a very dry sense of humor and could equally level a roomful of kids or a roomful of adults with both wit and sarcasm,” Hilsabeck said. “It was always fun to hear how he would keep us on our toes.”

Photo courtesy of Bates family

In addition to his talent for sarcasm, Charlie was also kind and thoughtful. The way he treated others impacted many.

“He was just the type of person where if you were in a room with him, and you knew him, you would always feel safe and like you had a person who would listen to you and that you could talk to,” Lawler said. 

Charlie deeply cared for others. He was compassionate and loving, especially when it came to his sister, Marcia. In the summer of 2021, the CCPA put on a production of “Seussical the Musical,” and both Charlie and Marcia were in the cast. One day before rehearsal, Marcia sprained and scraped her ankle after falling off a skateboard. While she couldn’t put weight on her foot, she insisted on going to rehearsal — which happened to be taking place at the bottom of a big hill. Like the kind person he was, Charlie scooped Marcia up and carried her down to rehearsal. 

“I get to them [at the bottom of the hill] and say, ‘You can’t rehearse like this, go home,’” Hilsabeck said. “So Charlie just scooped her back up and carried her back up that big hill. That was how they were together. Charlie was always there for her.”

Photo courtesy of Bates family

Charlie and Marcia were two peas in a pod. During another rehearsal for the musical, Charlie was meant to show up on stage to rehearse his lines. When he didn’t, Hilsabeck went on a hunt to find the missing actor. 

“Lo and behold, I finally spot Charlie and Marcia, thick as thieves, tucked away in a corner, totally oblivious to the world around them. Somehow they’ve smuggled hamburgers into the rehearsal and are sitting over there sharing them,” Hilsabeck said.  

In many ways, Charlie was like glue. His outgoing attitude was one of the key components in helping the show band build relationships. Every chance he got, Charlie would make sure each of the show band members talked to one another. Never intimidated by his older peers, he would start conversations with anyone.

“He brought everyone together and kept everyone grooving and jiving. That was his job in the band. In a more metaphorical sense, he sort of kept everyone going,” Jetton said. “Regardless of how the band did or anything, [he] made sure we weren’t beating ourselves up over any sort of small mistakes.”

Regardless of how the band did or anything, [he] made sure we weren’t beating ourselves up over any sort of small mistakes.

— Charles Jetton '22

Above all, friends and family will remember Charlie’s spirit through the lively music he played every day.

“He was an amazing friend and it was just really nice to hear him play. He kind of made everyone else feel energetic,” Lawler said. “When you’re in a band, if there’s an amazing drum solo or a guitar solo, or a bass solo, or a riff that the pianist or trumpet does, it pumps everyone else up. Charlie would constantly experiment, so the energy was always there, and it kind of just generated from him.”