Legacy of longtime band director will play on

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Sam Forney warmed up musicians before a past championship.

Marching band students soldiered on Sunday, participating in the Cavalcade of Bands Championship at Millersville University. They had just learned that morning that their band director, Samuel B. Forney, had died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Parent and chaperone Lisa Crawford said of the students, “It was very difficult to process. They really pulled together and did a good job.”

Forney, 58, passed away at his home after several months of declining health. He had been a band director at Greencastle-Antrim High School for 32 years, and directed the Concert Band, field band, indoor guard, and percussion and jazz ensembles.

Competing in the highest level category, the field band finished 10th at Sunday’s championship with its best score of the season (89.750).

A 1973 graduate of G-AHS, and 1977 graduate of West Chester University, he earned a masters degree in music from the same institution. He returned to his hometown to work.

“We lost a colleague and a friend,” said school superintendent Greg Hoover. “We grew up together and came back to work in jobs we loved. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”

Hoover visited Forney earlier in the week, and Forney was concerned about the Millersville competition. He didn’t want to die before it occurred, as it could affect the band members.

“That speaks volumes about who he was. He always cared about the kids. They did a great job with the burden of knowing about him. Sam would have been proud of them.”

Monday morning, high school faculty announced the news in their homerooms, and principal Ed Rife led a moment of silence over the intercom system. Extra counselors were brought in then and Tuesday. Rife sent a letter home with all of the students, with information for parents on dealing with the grieving process their teens may experience.

“Sam was very dedicated,” said Rife. “Some students were very close to him. It is a difficult time for us all. We’re all sticking together.”

A musical legacy

Forney had several students go on to major in music in college and become band directors, but Matthew Wolfe, Class of 2007, is the only one he ever competed against. Wolfe works at Warwick School District and kept in touch with Forney over the years. They had a fairly even record in beating each other.

The two met up at music festivals and Wolfe would phone or email for advice on his novice teaching career.

“He was definitely still teaching me. When I learned of his death Sunday, I had to compose myself before my own band competed. It was very rough,” Wolfe said.

Forney is being remembered for his devotion to the music program. Eric Plum, head of the school district music department, said Forney loved and cared for his students, and taught them commitment, respect and sportsmanship.

“To simply say that Sam had a competitive side would be an understatement. He certainly had the capacity to get excited at practice or a band competition!” said Plum. “I was privileged to have been able to share part of my life with him professionally and as a friend.”

High school choral director Roz Bingaman watched Forney at work.

“He would rearrange his high school band lesson schedule, so that he could assist with lessons for the beginning brass students at the elementary school. His dedication to the instrumental music programs of our school district will be sadly missed."

Brock Bricker played for Forney through high school. After graduation in 2002, he stayed on to help and is now assistant band director for the fall and winter field bands. Some of his youthful experiences were fodder for Forney’s lessons to the next round of students.

Bricker tended not to get his trombone solo perfect until the championships, so the band director used that example to motivate the kids. “Don’t be like Brock,” he would say.

As a freshman Bricker would oversee loading the truck for the band trips. When they once arrived in Martinsburg, his uniform was not in the inventory. Fortunately, a band parent was able to bring it down.

“He used that episode too, making sure the kids packed everything,” recalled Bricker.

A parent of former students, Bonnie Shockey saw Forney teach hundreds of students, who became part of a team, learning responsibility and discipline.

She said, “Sam had the ability to teach and encourage each student to be the best she or he could be, which produced many award-winning G-AHS bands, which were renowned across the state. Sam Forney has given the Greencastle-Antrim community a great legacy. He will be sorely missed.”

Crawford saw that character trait as well. “There were some kids who didn’t fit in anywhere else. He found a way to get close to them. He was hard on them, but they knew he loved them.”

The band students, aware of his illness and not allowed to visit him, created a prayer quilt from past competition t-shirts. It will be on display at his viewing, which is from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Harold M. Zimmerman and Son Funeral Home, and at First United Methodist Church Thursday one hour prior to the 2 p.m. funeral service.

“The students really missed him this year,” Crawford said. “They wanted to do something for him. He was excited when he got the quilt.”

Jessica McKinstry was hired as a long term sub to cover for Forney this fall. Already she witnessed the impact he had on his students. Alumni were still close to him and kept tabs on his musical groups.

“He meant a lot to the kids, through his encouragement and mentorship,” she said. “He built a good program.”

She credited his leadership for the way she was accepted as the new band director.

Forney was named the Cavalcade of Bands Director of the Year for 2009-2010. It was awarded from a slate of 80 directors in a four-state region. His field bands received numerous awards through the years. He started the indoor guard in 1988, and a 25 year celebration was held at the Keystone Indoor Drill Association competition in February. Forney was also named Greencastle-Antrim Education Association James R. Martz Teacher of the Year in 2008.