For this Virginia band, $50K donation is music to their ears

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) – Cody Kesling was in his first semester as the director of bands at George Washington High School when Tropical Storm Michael swept through Danville in October 2018.

The storm flooded the school’s basement storeroom and ruined countless trophies and about $250,000 in instruments and other band equipment.

Kesling has been slowly rebuilding the program’s inventory since then. On May 14, he and the GW band program were the recipients of a $50,000 donation from the Womack Foundation to go toward new instruments

“This puts us in a really good spot,” Kesling said. “This gift is so generous in the fact it gives us a good boost, it allows us to get a really good chunk of what we need taken care of. The generosity of the gift is fantastic. This is easily the biggest gift I will probably ever get from one family. It’s helpful, it’s so helpful. It’s the best way to start the summer.”

On hand to present the check were Charles Womack and his mother, Bobbye Raye Womack, wanting to make the donation in honor of Charles’ younger brother Patrick, who died at 51 of cancer on Aug. 5, 2019.

Charles and Patrick graduated from GW in 1983 and 1986, respectively. Though Patrick was never in the band program in high school, he was an accomplished musician for much of his life. Charles said Patrick was a talented guitar player and, despite disliking piano lessons as a child, grew to become a skilled classical pianist, as well.

Charles said many of Patrick’s best friends from high school remained close to him throughout his life, and he played in bands with several of them. He could think of no better way to honor his brother than by making a donation to help GW’s up-and-coming musicians.

“When I presented it to the board that we wanted to do something large like this for the band, it was approved unanimously,” Charles said. “We wanted to do something great, and hopefully we can do something similar to this each year for a while to help them get what they need.”

Charles’ grandfather started the Womack Foundation in 1963 “in order to provide financial assistance and improve educational and recreational opportunities” in Danville, Pittsylvania County and Caswell County, North Carolina, according to the foundation’s website.

During the winter, The Patrick Womack Music Scholarship Fund awarded a GW student with money for a new instrument, and it was at that time that Charles and Kesling talked in more detail about the band program’s needs. Later in March, Charles reached back out with the idea of making another sizable donation to the school.

“It was mind-blowing,” Kesling said. “It was very touching to know the community is out there and they want to help the program and make sure it succeeds. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”

GW Principal Jay Lancaster also expressed his appreciation for the donation.

“You may not remember an SOL test, you may not remember a history exam, but music is something that will carry you for the rest of your life,” Lancaster said. “For the Womack Foundation to reach out to remember his brother but also to support the next generation is amazing.”

Kesling said much of the money will go toward buying instruments that are needed the most, such as saxophones, flutes and clarinets. Whatever is left over will likely go toward brass instruments. Kesling estimated that he could purchase about 18 instruments with this donation.

This year, 117 students participated in the band program, which Lancaster said is more than 10% of the student population. In recent weeks, Kesling has been collecting the instruments back from students, making him more hopeful of a return to normalcy by the time the new school year comes around.

“I really can’t wait to have them back in my room,” he said. “We’re not blood, but we’re family. A lot of those kids are here every day. You see them and interact with them, and you see them grow and mature. I miss it, I really miss it.”

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