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Turbyfill remembered for years working to help students

By Susan Shinn Turner

For The Salisbury Post

When Ron Turbyfill was a band director, his focus was on the students. When he was a principal, his focus was on the students. When he was with Communities in Schools, his focus was on the students.

And when he led the Rowan Big Band, all proceeds went to — you guessed it — helping students.

“We got used to him being gone a lot because his focus was the kids,” said wife Kim.

Ron Turbyfill, loved by family, colleagues, and students alike, died Thursday at Kiser Hospice House after a 10-month battle with brain cancer. Visitation is set for 5-7 p.m. Aug. 7 at Powles Staton Funeral Home in Rockwell, with a celebration of life to follow Aug. 8 at 3 p.m. at St. James Lutheran Church in Rockwell.

Married for 42 years, the Turbyfills had two sons, Lee and Lane. When Lee was young, he accompanied his dad’s bands to Disney World and New Orleans. Kim remembers feeding Lee baby food on the top bleacher at West Rowan High before the band performances.

“When Lane came along, he did not understand why he couldn’t ride on the bus,” Kim said, “but Ron wasn’t band director anymore.”

Lane did, however, attend South Rowan High School when his dad served as principal — which was admittedly not as fun, his mom said. On costume day, put on a tie and sat behind his dad’s desk.

“There are just so many memories of Ron’s involvement in everything,” Kim said.

Vicky Slusser worked with Ron when she was director of Communities in Schools and he was board chair. That was before he took over when she retired.

“He knew our CIS staff that worked at Hanford Dole Elementary School very well,” she said, because he had been principal there. “He knew first-hand the needs of the kids and the community. He went above and beyond what the kids needed because of his knowledge. Above all else, he looked out for the kids in the community who didn’t have a voice for themselves.”

Bill Bucher has been a vocalist in the Rowan Big Band.

“Ron has been an outstanding friend,” he said. “He had a disarming way to make people want to follow him in whatever he endeavored. The Rowan Big Band is all volunteer. We do it for the joy of it.”

They also worked together in Communities in Schools.

“He liked to do a lot of stuff personally,” Bucher said. “He enjoyed buying shoes and delivering them to our site coordinators. It mattered to him what we were doing.”

Tim Hedrick played saxophone with Ron in the Rowan Big Band. He taught middle school and high school band for 33 years, 26 of those years in Albemarle, and their paths crossed occasionally. They also worked together at a music store as road representatives.

“He was just a great guy,” Tim said. “He was a gentle giant and soft-spoken, but everybody knew Ron was in charge when the time came. He was an extremely talented saxophone player. He was a fun guy to play with. He was always trying to make sure everybody else got the spotlight, but he could play the keys off the saxophone.”

Tim will likely take over the band, he said, because Ron wanted to keep the band going.

Wendy Shoemaker was in marching band at West under Ron’s direction. She graduated in 1989. Later, she cared for Kim’s mother in an assisted living facility.

“I think the world of them both,” she said. “Ron was a brilliant man in many different ways. There wasn’t an instrument he couldn’t play. He wanted to expose us to different kinds of music — how music felt.”

When Wendy was first-chair saxophone, there was someone in her section who played terribly. One day, Ron pulled her aside and asked her about it.

“Turb,” she said, “he’s just terrible.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Ron asked her. “You’re the leader. You need to identify where people need support and help them be successful.”

“That has stuck with me my whole professional life,” Wendy said. “He truly was a person who dedicated everything he did to help people be successful.”

Ron first started having problems on Sept. 11, when it was discovered he had a glioblastoma brain tumor. Although he had surgery to remove it a few days later, the surgeon told Kim they always come back. Throughout the 10 months, Kim kept everyone updated through the Caring Bridge Web site.

“We knew what we were looking at,” she said.

Kim described her husband as romantic, sentimental and loving.

“He sent flowers for everything,” she said.

After surgery, she said, he was a different person.

“This wasn’t the conclusion I wanted,” Kim said.

Kim and Ron met in college, when she was at the University of North Carolina — Greensboro and he was at East Carolina University. His twin brother, Don, and her roommate introduced them.

“He was connected to everybody and involved in so much,” she said. “Through all of this there was somebody he had touched or who had known him.”

Kim also said she was thankful her husband met their granddaughter, Lottie, who was born Aug. 24. Lee had practiced law with Don, but he and his wife, Dr. Jenna Tucker Turbyfill, moved to Greensboro in April after she got a job at UNC-G.

Lee is in the process of applying to the North Carolina Bar. Lane, an educator, stayed with his parents this summer during the week while Lee came on the weekends.

“We have been inundated with cards, gift cards, and prayers,” Kim said. “If love and prayer could cure, we wouldn’t have had a problem. We have had an outpouring of love.”

What she wrote in his obituary was true, she said. He passed away in the loving arms of his family and community.

“Ron has left such a great legacy.”

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