Dr. Benjamin Caton has been an important fixture in the East Tennessee State University Department of Music for nearly five decades.

ETSU held a special presentation Thursday morning to honor the work of Caton, who served as a music professor for 46 years before his recent retirement.

Caton, who worked primarily as a professor of piano and music theory, was presented the Tennessee Music Teachers Association Teacher of the Year Award and his professor emeritus plaque, which he was unable to receive in-person earlier this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I was pleasantly surprised that we could do it during the pandemic,” Caton said. “I’m very grateful. I taught here 46 years, and I’ve loved all those 46 years.”

Caton also received a surprise proclamation from the State of Tennessee honoring his service to the campus community and the ETSU Department of Music.

ETSU President Brian Noland said Caton passed his childhood love for the piano to countless students over the years.

“That’s the beauty of what faculty do — they pass along their passion, their firm belief in the power of education,” Noland said.

Caton previously received the Distinguished Faculty Award in Service and served as president of the Music Teachers National Association.

Over the years, Caton has been well-known within the Department of Music for his passion for music and watching his students grow as musicians. He said he “can’t think of another subject more interesting and more beautiful to teach than music.”

Though he doesn’t have children, Caton said he considers many of the students he’s taught over the years to be like family to him and still keeps in touch with some.

“I consider them almost my children,” he said.

Caton said teaching music at the institution that taught him as an undergraduate was “never a chore.”

“I feel like one of those statements that I read somewhere that said, ‘Fortunate are adults who view their work as children view their play,’” he said. “Overall, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Teaching is a wonderful career.”

Caton said he plans to be involved in the ETSU community moving forward, and he still plans to attend concerts and football games to watch students perform.