“You know that people are noticing, but you stop caring because you’re focused on the music.”
A rundown of some of Benjamin Klimko’s hobbies pretty much tells the story. He plays the bagpipes, he’s an amateur radio operator, he enjoys woodworking, and he reads science magazines just for fun.
“It’s kind of interesting to do stuff that’s off the beaten path,” said the Highland Park High School senior. “I just like learning about as many different things as I can.”
For Klimko, learning extends well beyond the classroom, and includes a willingness to try things that his peers might consider antiquated or uncool.
Take the bagpipes, for example, which Klimko began playing after a classmate tried them in eighth grade and passed along a recommendation. Klimko — whose other instruments include the oboe, the piano, the saxophone, and the English horn — was up for the challenge.
“I started really enjoying it,” said Klimko, whose grandfather was a violinist. “It’s a really unique experience because there are so few people out there playing the bagpipes.”
Eventually, he joined the bagpipe corps at HPHS and became one of four kilted members. This year he’s the lead piper, which means he attracts a lot of attention at sporting events — something about which he has mixed emotions.
“You know that people are noticing, but you stop caring because you’re focused on the music,” said Klimko, who will follow in the footsteps of his older siblings and attend Rice University in the fall.
When he’s not playing music, Klimko often can be heard on the airwaves of amateur radio – also known as ham radio – an activity usually associated with an older demographic. Again, for Klimko, the novelty is part of the allure.
His first experience came as a freshman during a Boy Scout campout, on a radio hooked to a car battery. Klimko already was an Eagle Scout at the time, but decided to pursue the radio merit badge because it was the only one his troop offered that he didn’t already have.
“I really didn’t want to take it because it sounded so dull,” he said.
That was before he wound up starting a conversation with a guy in Argentina. Suddenly his least anticipated merit badge became one of his favorites.
After Klimko worked a summer job in a physics lab at SMU following his sophomore year, he saved up enough money to buy a radio off eBay. He’s since talked to strangers from all over the world, and tries to get on the radio several times each month.
Klimko, 18, is a licensed member of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, which can play a vital role during emergencies or natural disasters. He’s one of the only people under age 50 in the group.
“There’s a pretty broad spectrum of stuff you can do with it,” said Klimko, who hopes to join an amateur radio club at Rice. “You have to put in a tiny bit of work to get the license, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great hobby.”