‘Mr. B’ impacted the lives of many in music and more

PAT FRIDGEN
Mr. Besecker’s teaching spanned the generations as evidenced in this photo taken earlier this year. At right is Jean Johnston, a student of Mr. B’s his first yar at Greencastle. Her daughter (center rear), Mandy Stottlemyer, was a student of his from seventh- through 12th-grade, and her daughter, Diana, (left) took private lessons from Mr. B from 2002 to 2007. She was his last private student.

Richard Besecker, long time vocal instructor in the Greencastle-Antrim School District, died Tuesday, Nov. 17 at the age of 77. Beloved by students who passed his way during a 34-year career, "Mr. B" is being mourned by those who today credit their passion for music and succeeding accomplishments to their former teacher. Members of the community who worked beside him also feel the loss. His music impacted them as much as his faith.

Mandy Stottlemyer took private voice and piano lessons, sang for Besecker in the high school choir and Choralaires, and participated in district and regional chorus.

"He helped me through all that," she said. "Anything I know about piano and singing, it's all because of him."

As an adult, she kept in touch. Besecker directed the Old Home Week Cantata and music for the pageant every three years, and was a life vice president of the OHW Association. Eventually Stottlemyer worked along side him as she led the children's choir. Her own daughter Diana, now a college junior, was his student, and made it to state chorus as an accompanist her senior year.

"He brought her to new heights," said Stottlemyer. "His death is bittersweet. I have no doubt he's with the Lord, but we'll miss him very much."

Phil Risser and Saundra Wingert sang for Besecker as teenagers. "He pushed us to be the best we could," said Risser. "He raised the bar high for chorus. And he was always involved in community events and church choir."

Wingert also took private lessons. "He was both a spiritual mentor and musical inspiration," she said.

Richard Overcash was a student and at one point a co-worker.

“People know “Mr. B” as a vocal instructor, but he was the whole music department for a while. I remember him in his band uniform my freshman year. It was white and he was very impressive,” he said.

That impressive carriage was part of Besecker’s whole being, he continued. The man who made it OK for a “jock” to like music, who always tried to do the right thing, who controlled students by his very presence, who had a contagious laugh, was someone people wanted to be around.

Overcash majored in music at a college Besecker recommended. He came back to Greencastle for a few years to teach and was guided again. Now instructing his own vocal students, Overcash is witness to the generations who carry on Besecker’s legacy.

“His ‘children and grandchildren in music’ are going on,” he said, naming many people active as professionals and volunteers in the music world.

Overcash said “Mr. B” mentored him spiritually too, but he didn’t know it at the time. “He never preached, he lived it.”

David McCandless worked with Besecker for 19 years. They shared an office even though Besecker had his own.

"He liked mine better because I had the telephone," said the former band director.

He cited Besecker's moving influence with the students. During the gas crisis in the 1970s, school doors opened later than usual, with students reporting at 8 a.m. Besecker wanted the choir to rehearse at 7 a.m. and made arrangements with a church. Though attendance was voluntary, McCandless said all of the kids except two showed up regularly, and those two finally caved to peer pressure. The entire group rehearsed and later performed 'Requiem Mass', "something high schoolers just don't do."

McCandless referenced the many students who went on to become music teachers all across the country. Many charges also populate church music programs and choirs throughout Franklin County.

"His legacy will be forever," said McCandless. "It is here now."

Overcash summed up the sentiment of everyone. “He was a blessing to Greencastle.”

Besecker attended Grace Bible Church and was active with Gideons International. He was also a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Sue; children Lois Bowlus and David Besecker, and their spouses; seven grandchildren; two great-granchildren; and three step-grandchildren.

Services were held Saturday. Anyone attending who had sung in one of "Mr. B's" choirs was invited to sing "The Lord Bless and Keep You" at the end.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be given to Grace Bible Church, 2327 Hoffman Road, Greencastle, PA 17225 or to The Gideons International, P.O. Box 724, Greencastle, PA  17225 or to the Richard Besecker Scholarship Fund, C/O Greencastle-Antrim Education Foundation, 217 E. Baltimore St., Greencastle, PA 17225.

Richard Besecker, shown here with his wife, Sue, was the recipient of the 2006 James P. Oliver Citizenship Award from the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.