Jack Hontz, who has likely influenced more Strath Haven High School students and families than anyone else in the past three decades, died Friday, June 23, while playing golf with his son, Jack.
Dr. MaryJo Yannacone, principal of Strath Haven High School, broke the news of the “devastating loss” of the SHHS band director to the Haven community in an e-mail the same day. Dr. Yannacone lauded “the man who built our music program and led our students for 34 years … we have a sense of gratitude for being part of a school community that included a man who was so generous of his time and talents, so compassionate in his leadership of students and staff, and so dedicated and warm in supporting our entire student body. Jack served a vital role at Strath Haven High School and indeed, across the Wallingford-Swarthmore community. He was a mentor, friend, colleague and inspiration to us all, and in him, we witnessed the very best a person can be.”
Mr. Hontz is survived by his wife, Cindy, and four children, Jack, David, Matthew and Emily.
A visitation will be held today, Friday, June 30, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Strath Haven High School. The funeral will be on Saturday, July 1, at 10 a.m. at Grove United Methodist Church, 490 Boot Road in West Chester. A luncheon will follow at the church.
Tributes poured forth from Jack Hontz fans in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and beyond. A few follow.
Wallingford native Phil Bergman, SHHS Class of 2012, University of Missouri Journalism School graduate 2016, and a member of the marching band at both schools, wrote on June 24:
“I don’t remember the last time I cried. That changed tonight.
“My memories around Mr. Hontz don’t necessarily revolve around music, they revolve around sports. Yes, we spent rehearsals together almost every day of the week, and three years’ worth of lunches working on district and region music, but it was our sports conversations and love for sports that brought us together. Mr. Hontz hands-down is the biggest sports guru I ever met. Every day in his office the sports section would be lying on his desk, sports websites opened up on his computer. I fondly think of analyzing the upcoming football games before each Friday, looking up the district standings until late at night after games, talking PSAC football and Princeton athletics, and of course, hearing about his beloved Yankees.
“Mr. Hontz did something that only a handful of people have ever done; he made band cool. Nowhere else does a school of 1,200 have 425 kids in the band. In most schools, kids in 4th grade can’t wait to play football. When I was in 4th grade, I couldn’t wait to start playing an instrument.
“Each year during college I came back to visit … we would talk life and what was going on, but mostly sports, which usually led to conversations about his children’s sports teams. Even though he spent countless hours with us, and even more helping students one-on-one whenever they needed it, he always made time to coach all of his kids’ Legion and Little League teams. He loved his students, but he loved his children even more.
“I won’t forget the last conversation I had with him last year. We were talking about college football and I had an epiphany. I said, “What you’ve done with the Haven band is the same as a coach does with his team … you try to bring them together and push them to reach their goal.” He looked at me and smiled as if I finally figured out his secret.
“My thoughts go out to Jack, David, the rest of the Hontz family and Mr. Pearlburg.
“Rest in peace. Your impact has reached farther than you ever imagined.”
Betty Ann Flynn of Media is a commercial photographer and longtime member of the Rotary Club of Swarthmore, and earlier, of Media Rotary.
“Jack Hontz: a gifted musician, talented teacher and caring individual. These are only a few of the many outstanding qualities that Jack demonstrated to all those around him.
“I met Jack 26 years ago when I joined the Rotary Club of Media. We became friends and shared many lunches together. Jack was always discussing future plans for the band & color guard with enthusiasm and anticipation of the many events in which “his group” was scheduled to perform.
“Jack and Dr. George Slick were instrumental in forming a scholarship program for students in Strath Haven and Penncrest high schools. This program was funded by Media Rotary and six students were selected each year for scholarships. In addition to the scholarship awards, Jack initiated a special recognition for two students from each school to be honored with a framed certificate and invitation to Media Rotary for lunch.
“What a thrill to be in Media for the Halloween and Veterans Day parades, Jack marching alongside all 400-plus students. When the Fun-Fair began in Swarthmore 16 years ago, Jack readily responded to the needs of the Rotary Club of Swarthmore, making sure many of the band members were with him to participate in this special event.
“Many of us will miss you, Jack, and are thankful to have known such a wonderful man.”
Dr. MaryJo Yannacone last Sunday wrote the following for the Swarthmorean:
“Jack built the finest music program anywhere at Strath Haven and in the WSSD community, due to his unrelenting dedication on a daily basis for 34 years. He had a great deal of support from colleagues, parents, student leaders, and most importantly, from a family that understood his passion and drive and shared him willingly with us.
“When a person of Jack’s influence is lost, we struggle to understand and worry about what lies ahead. Will his legacy survive? Jack’s work has led to the development of a team of music educators, led by Henry Pearlberg and John Shankweiler, who share Jack’s passion for music and for working with children. Our community values music education, and our students love what being a part of the music program brings: acceptance, camaraderie, challenge, and engagement in something larger than oneself. For these reasons, I am confident Jack’s legacy will survive and even thrive.
“The tributes on social media speak volumes about the impact that Jack Hontz had on generations of students and families. Jack made music accessible to every student, and made each student feel welcome and valued as an integral member of the greatest team. He believed in their potential, challenged them to meet it, and worked tirelessly until success was achieved. He was the finest example of the educator we all strive to be.”
Share Your Memories and Tributes
All current and past students and families in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District will be invited to a memorial tribute to Jack’s life this fall.
A commemorative book of tributes, memories, photos, and letters to the family is being assembled at the high school this summer for presentation to the Hontz family at the memorial.
Contributions to the book may be mailed to Strath Haven High School, 205 South Providence Road, Wallingford, PA 19086; e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org; or dropped off at the high school throughout the summer.
The district will soon post on its website at wssd.org information regarding future memorial scholarships, fundraisers, and preferred charities for Jack and his family.