Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 21, 2011

Band scholarship to honor McWilliams

Neighbor, dad was Amador Valley's biggest fan

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Perhaps because John McWilliams lived across the street from Amador Valley High School, he considered its band members "his kids" even after his daughters Erin, Megan and Mallory finished the program.

Years after his children had left the school, he was known to sit up in bed late at night when the band buses rolled into the school parking lot after an out-of-town event and say to his wife Donna, "Our kids are home," recalled one friend. He could then go to sleep.

Band Director Jon Grantham said he choked up to hear that because those five charter buses return from band reviews as late as 1 a.m.

"To know he would hear buses and say that to Donna says a lot about what the band meant to him as a parent and a community member," said Grantham.

For this reason Grantham and the current Amador Friends of Music board are working to fund an annual scholarship honoring John McWilliams, who died in August at the age of 60 after an 11-year battle with kidney cancer. Enough has been raised to give $500 scholarships this year and next but organizers are looking for sustainable funding for the next two to five years to keep the scholarship active.

"The money is to be spent in college and it's for a band member but they do not need to be pursuing music," Grantham said. "Band members will submit essays explaining what band has meant to them. The McWilliams family will review the essays and select a winner. We hope to announce the winner in the spring during senior award season."

Grantham, who had the McWilliams twins Megan and Mallory (2003-2007) in his band program, fondly remembers the family watching the band march out each year for the Pleasanton Holiday Parade.

"Every year, even when they didn't have kids in the band, the McWilliams family would be out on the porch and yelling and cheering for the band," he recalled.

When his daughters were in the band, John McWilliams attended every field show to load and unload the equipment trucks plus donated his barbecuing talents to feed the hungry masses at band events.

"I remember when he was actually a band parent I had a ridiculous number of props at one time and he always moved them with a smile and never questioned the insanity of my motives," remembered Grantham. "He was just such a kind, kind man."

"One year when John was bedridden, during one of his first remissions, and could not attend a field show, Mr. (Dennis) Aquilina marched the entire 100-plus piece band, including colorguard, across the street to march in place and play the whole field show beginning to end facing the McWilliams home," recalled Lauren Kallio, class of 2002. "Yes, first we knocked on the door and asked if we could plug our extension cord in," she added.

Donations may be made with checks payable to AFM, noting "McWilliams scholarship," and mailed to AVHS, c/o Jon Grantham, 1155 Santa Rita Road, Pleasanton 94566.

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