Area School Board member mourned
Posted: February 5, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Area educators are among those mourning the loss of a friend, former teacher and educational advocate.
Melvin S. “Jim” Harmon, 58, of Stephenson, died Monday morning at Winchester Medical Center following a battle with cancer.
“We’ve lost a friend,” said Frederick County School Board Chairman Stuart Wolk, who sat on the panel with Harmon. “Frederick County Public Schools lost a friend, and in turn, we won’t be as strong a board without him.”
Harmon represented the Stonewall District from January 2007 until his death. He was elected to fill the final two years of Patricia Stiles’ term. His current term was set to expire at the end of 2013.
“He brought so much to the board from so many different avenues,” Wolk said. “He was non-compromising when it came to what’s best for the kids. I’m just going to miss the guy, plain and simple.”
During his tenure, Harmon served on a variety of the board’s committees, including the Instruction Committee, where he served as chairman from 2012 until his passing. Harmon was also the chairman of the Personnel Committee, a member of the Buildings and Grounds Committee and served on the board of the Frederick County Educational Foundation in 2011.
Superintendent David Sovine said Harmon would be missed. He called him a “valued member” who always had students as his top priority.
“He was an advocate for the arts and had a great appreciation for the many talented students who attend our schools,” Sovine said in a Monday press release. “Having worked as both a teacher and school administrator, Mr. Harmon also possessed a good understanding of the challenges educators face and he worked tirelessly on their behalf.”
The board has 45 days to appoint someone to fill Harmon’s seat.
Before taking his place on the board, Harmon was a music teacher and chorus director for Winchester Public Schools starting in 1986. The position was originally split between Daniel Morgan Middle School and Handley High School.
“I had the pleasure of working with Jim at Handley High School as a teaching colleague for many years,” wrote Superintendent Rick Leonard in an email Monday. “He was a very innovative, high-energy, compassionate teacher who worked diligently to develop outstanding choruses and vocal musicians at the high school. In addition, Jim was a great performer and a wonderful singer who shared his passion with everyone — his church family, other local singers, and his friends and family.
“We shared similar interests outside of public education — fishing, hunting, building projects, to name a few — and I was fortunate to call him a friend. My deepest sympathy is extended to his family on his passing.”
Soon after beginning his tenure in Winchester, Harmon became the full-time music teacher and chorus director at Handley, until June 2000, when he resigned to become the supervisor of music in Loudoun County Public Schools. He stayed in that position until he retired Sept. 28. As supervisor, Harmon oversaw the expansion of the music program from 47 schools to 82.
“Among his main achievements was the implementation of the stringed music program,” wrote Wayde Byard, public information officer, in a Monday email. “He was beloved by our staff, and his death is deeply felt.”
Harmon was a nationally registered and certified music teacher by the Music Educators National Executive Board.
He was also an assistant conductor and a member of the board of directors of Winchester Musica Viva, a chamber choir comprised of singers from many different professions.
Wendy Oesterling, former managing director of Musica Viva, called Harmon an extraordinarily generous and kind person who “always thought the best of everyone.” She also thought he was hilarious.
“Jim was a larger-than-life character,” she said. “He was extremely talented as a musician, very smart, really, really funny. Never in a million years could I come up with the stuff he came up with.”
Harmon was also the choir director at First Methodist Church and a member of the Piedmont Singers in Middleburg.
“He was a visionary,” she said. “He was always looking at what Viva [and Piedmont Singers] could become.”
According to Oesterling, Harmon would often say: “So much music to do, so little time.”
“[His death] leaves a big huge hole in music in Winchester.”
Harmon is survived by his wife, Melody, his son Matt, daughter-in-law Renee, and two grandchildren.
Arrangements are being handled by Omps Funeral Home, Amherst Chapel.
— Contact Rebecca Layne at firstname.lastname@example.org