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Striking A Chord: Locals Look To Raise Money For Beloved Music Teacher

Pictured is Bill Knight, a local private music teacher who has mentored and taught hundreds of music students over the past 50 years. Knight needs a new handicap-accessible van. Submitted photo

Roy Ayers once said, “The true beauty of music is that it connects people.” Musicians and community members from across the area, and even across the country, have come together to show just that.

Friends of Bill Knight, a beloved and talented local music teacher, have come together to raise money for a new handicap-accessible van. Knight needs a new van to get to medical appointments, get groceries, and other essential needs. The group, including Gary Kindberg, Marc and Stephanie Lentsch, Norm and Mindi Lydell, Chad and Meghan Murray and Matt and Gina Wakefield, created a Gofundme account to raise $60,000 to buy Knight a new van that will remain reliable for years to come.

Lydell, former director of the Jamestown High School A Cappella Choir and band director, said he got his musical start in brass with the help of Knight. He said Knight has been teaching music, particularly brass, for 50 years.

“Bill was a music teacher like me, a band director at Lincoln Junior High back in the ’70s, and quite early in his career, he suffered an accident and could no longer teach public schools because he was confined to a wheelchair,” Lydell said. “While he was at Heritage Village in Gerry, back all those years, he met his nurse, and they fell in love. Her name is Linda, and she became his primary caregiver and allowed him to live decades beyond what anybody had predicted at his time that his lifespan would be.”

Linda was a huge help to Knight throughout that time, and remained his caregiver for 40 years until she passed away in 2018.

Another person who was monumental in getting Knight back into teaching music was Ralph Rassmussen, a local musician and teacher, also known as Razz. “Razz was at Falconer Central School as a band director and knew Bill, and knew he was struggling,” Lydell said. “Razz went to see him and says, ‘I’ve got two Jazz bands and they meet at the same time — I’m taking you to Falconer, and you are going to teach the other jazz band while I teach the first one.’ So it was Ralph Rassmussen that really got Bill back into teaching. The custodians at Falconer built a ramp so Bill could get up in front of the band.”

“At this point, I was a little boy when all this was happening,” Lydell said. “Like many folks, I came to know Bill as one of the first private brass students that he had. After his accident, I was going to tuba lessons as a seventh-grader at Heritage Village in Gerry. I was one of the first Conference All-State players that he produced. Conference All-State is as high as you can go as a band person in New York state as a high school student. So Bill has had 96 students go to Conference All-State.”

Lydell said if Knight was a high school football coach, stadiums would have been named after him for all the all-star “athletes” he’s taught and mentored.

“I don’t know anybody else that I’ve encountered in my time that is anything close to that as a teacher,” he said. “He’s really good at what he does. I guess there’s something about the one-on-one with students that he has. He makes connections. The way (students) describe it is he will tell you what the problem is and he will tell you how to fix it — fix your fingering if it’s wrong, playing the wrong note — it’s immediate accountability.”

Lydell said Knight has made so much of an impact on his students and former students that they have come together to help him in a time of need. Knight needs a new handicap-accessible van, and various former students, friends and community members have started a Gofundme to raise the $60,000 it will cost.

“We’ve raised over $27,000 so far,” Lydell said. “And these are people from all over the country. Once the word spread, people have been like, ‘I want to help, I want to help.’ It’s a very specific goal here. A new van is upwards of around $60,000 for a handicap-accessible van. They really have to do a lot of modifications. So we set a goal at $60,000, but we just are going to push and push as far as we can, and if we get $45,000, we will get it done — we’ll get a used one in good condition, but we will replace what he has.”

Lydell said the hope is to spread awareness of the fund and get donations but, more importantly, share Knight’s incredible story.

“That’s the biggest thing I want to make people understand — donations are wonderful, but please tell the story,” he said. “Please, pass the story along. It’s a great story and it helped us garner the support of people that maybe don’t know Bill, but they had a special teacher that if they could do something for that teacher, here’s you’re chance. Or if they knew somebody in their life, but they couldn’t really have the opportunity to do something like this. Now they’re helping somebody like Bill.”

Lydell said Knight is a fairly private person but is extremely well-known in the music community in the area.

“He’s taught almost all of our best brass players through the years,” he said.

Knight said he is incredibly humbled by the fundraising.

“I am surprised and very humbled that people would donate to this,” he said. “It’s very humbling that this group of five couples would put this together trying to help me.”

He said he had heard something about the possibility of a fundraising effort, but didn’t know it would come to fruition. He said he is “overwhelmed” by the efforts of these couples and the community members who are donating.

The Gofundme will be open for donations until Oct. 1. To donate, visit https://ie.gofundme.com/f/bill-knight-van-fund or mail a check made out to Bill Knight to Norman Lydell at 3229 Baker Street Extension, Jamestown, N.Y.

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