Nearly a decade after Samuel Hayward retired from teaching music, his students still can't stop talking about him.
The popular band director who taught for 48 years at Countryside and Seminole high schools inspired some of those students to follow in his footsteps and become music teachers or band directors.
Others, like Sherry Fowler, were simply inspired.
"If Mr. Hayward had not asked me to join marching band, my high school experience would have been different; my entire life could have turned out differently," said Fowler, an accountant.
Her college application essay was about Hayward. "I got so involved and interested in the band, because I loved it so much, and my parents joined the booster club and came to all the home games," Fowler said. "He was such an impact in my life."
Hayward's former students are honoring him with three days of festivities that begin Thursday. But the signature tribute is the newly created Samuel L. Hayward Scholarship Fund that will award scholarships annually to high-achieving students from Countryside and Seminole high schools pursing music education degrees.
"For a guy to serve 48 years as a band director is somewhat unprecedented," said James Monroe, a former student and chair of the committee that organized the tribute. "Everybody whom Mr. Hayward has come into contact with in 48 years just loves him to death."
Monroe, who is retired and lives in Mississippi, served as president of University Bands at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and then as director of Miami Senior High School's "Million Dollar" Band.
Hayward, 78, was humbled when he found out about the fund. "It shows I did something right when I was teaching," he said.
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Hayward began his long career in music education in 1955 at the then all-black Pinellas High School, which became Clearwater Comprehensive High School. He taught for six years at Seminole High School, and then in 1979 became the first band director at Countryside High School, where he stayed until his retirement in 2003.
Hayward's mother died when he was young. He was raised by a music-loving father and grandmother and decided in high school that he wanted to be a band director and share what his family had shared with him, a passion for music.
"He's a great friend, a great competitor, sneaky, and he does it all with a smile," said Frank Williams, 63, a friend, former colleague and retired band director. "The finest musicians and best human beings I've ever met were Sam's students. He taught the total package."
Everyone can remember a great teacher they had, but Hayward went above and beyond, said Monroe.
"Mr. Hayward would be at the school during the day hours, then he would go and work at the music store, then he would come back and have night rehearsals with various sections and/or full band and chorus."
Hayward's bands consistently earned superior ratings in performances in student solos, ensembles, symphonic and marching band, Monroe said.
On several occasions, Hayward turned down promotions because he thought his talents were best served as an educator, Monroe said.
"I guess I was born to teach rather than be an administrator," Hayward said. "I like action and being with the students."
Ann Caldwell-Adair, 45, a former Countryside student, taught as an adjunct music theory professor at the University of South Florida.
"He really captured everyone's unique ability and encouraged students to try new things," she said. "He allowed me to do advanced work in music theory in high school. He was like a father to so many kids. Who knew what path some of them would have walked down otherwise?"
In an era when few kids owned cars, especially in the low-income neighborhoods where most of Hayward's students lived, Hayward stepped up.
"He would load students up in the back of his little Volkswagen car and taken them home from practice," said Irma J. Mitchem-Hutchinson, a former student who is now a clinical psychologist. "I never once heard him complain. His wife and small son would bring him dinner to practice. His family shared Mr. Hayward with us."
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In retirement, Hayward has focused on music directing the Alumni Singers, a nonprofit organization and choir, for the past two years.
While he is no longer Countryside High's band leader, his spirit remains in the band room. Vince Parrulli, a former student, transferred from Land O'Lakes High School to Countryside to fill Hayward's shoes.
"When (Parrulli) was in high school, he was always energetic, a good player, a good musician, and I could tell that he was going to be a band director someday so I was really happy to see him come in and take my place," said Hayward, who has five children and was married for 45 years before his wife died. "He continued many things I'd been doing, like not discouraging students of how well or how bad they play."
Fofi Panagiotouros, 24, was among the last students Hayward taught.
"I had Mr. Hayward for my freshman year of high school, the last year he was teaching . . . You could tell he was just the kind of guy who really wanted to get the best out of his students," said Panagiotouros, who is studying music at Florida Southern College. "He pushed us really hard and was one of the influences for why I chose this path."