Albion schools mourn loss of beloved ‘Mr. B’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Wayne Burlison, 36, dies from colon cancer

Photo courtesy of Howard Owens/The Batavian – Wayne Burlison directs the Batavia Concert Band in this photo from June 23, 2011. Besides teaching Albion students, Burlison was involved in many community musical groups.

ALBION – An elementary band teacher who inspired the community with his courage while fighting colon cancer died on Wednesday night. Wayne Burlison was 36.

His death has saddened the school district and his many friends in the community. In addition to teaching Albion students, Burlison played with several groups, including the Batavia Concert Band, The Hit Men and the Mark Time Marchers in Kendall.

Burlison was also a leader of the Albion Running Club and led a Run for God program that prepared people to run a 5-kilometer race. He played in the praise band at the Albion Free Methodist Church.

He is survived by his wife Lisa and their son Adam, 7. Mrs. Burlison is a second grade teacher at Albion.

“Mr. Burlison has served since 2002 as a much loved member of our music staff, teaching most recently in the elementary school and working with the high school jazz and district marching bands. He will be greatly missed,” District Superintendent Michael Bonnewell and Elementary Principal Rachel Curtin wrote in a letter to parents.

Grief counselors and psychologists have been at the school today and will meet with students in the elementary band on Friday.

Photo by Tom Rivers – Burlison plays with a band last year during a banquet for the Care Net Center of Greater Orleans.

Bonnewell talked with Burlison several times since his diagnosis in December. Burlison shared he was concerned about his students with their emotional well-being and instruction when he was so sick.

“It speaks highly of him as an educator and as a person that in the midst of his illness he was so worried about his students,” Bonnewell said. “I told the staff today that it is our turn to look after his kids.”

Burlison will be honored during the high school musical on Friday and Saturday. He played in the pit orchestra for many years, playing the saxophone, trumpet or euphonium. The orchestra will leave Burlison’s seat open for the shows, with a blue cloth to symbolize colon cancer.

Students, including the performers on stage, will wear blue ribbons on their wrists. When marching band season starts, band director Michael Thaine said the uniforms will include stickers that say “Mr. B.”

“It’s a very sad day for us,” Thaine said. “There has most definitely been a lot of tears from the kids.”

‘He was very good at relating to the elementary students. He was very caring and nurturing, which you need at that level.’ – Mike Thaine, Albion High School band director

Burlison worked with students at all three school buildings. He taught the elementary levels and helped those students get a solid start, which was important for them to succeed in band at the middle and high school levels, Thaine said.

“The elementary band teacher is the most critical of the three band positions,” Thaine said. “Everything builds off the early foundation.”

Burlison won over students with a “quirky” sense of humor, Thaine said. Their teacher wasn’t a pushover. He insisted on practice and had a way with honing their enthusiasm.

“He was very good at relating to the elementary kids,” Thaine said. “He was very caring and nurturing, which you need at that level.”

Photo from Burlison’s Facebook page – Wayne Burlison started running in 2008 and completed a marathon and several half marathons

The district the past seven years has been recognized by the North American Music Merchants as a “Best Communities for Music Education.” Burlison had a big role in promoting music in the schools, and encouraging students to pursue excellence, Thaine said.

“The high school music teachers get a lot of the credit but it’s really those elementary teachers that are a critical part of the program,” Thaine said.

Burlison was the assistant marching band director and assistant jazz band leader.

“He was my right hand man,” Thaine said. “I didn’t look at him as the assistant director. We were the co-directors.”

Burlison inspired many in the community to exercise and eat better foods after he lost nearly 150 pounds in 2008. Burlison was about 300 pounds before he started losing weight through the Wii Fit game.

He ran early in the mornings and became a long-distance runner, completing a 26.2-mile marathon and several half marathons.

Two years ago he and two friends from church, Brian Krieger and Jack Burris, organized a 12-week running program that would culminate with the 5k at the Strawberry Festival in June.

Burlison wasn’t sure what to expect, if people would give running a try. Forty would complete the first race through the Run for God program, with Burlison one of their biggest cheerleaders.

Last year he motivated many of the runners while he rode along on a bike. The Run for God group grew to 80 a year ago. Burlison asked his friends to keep up the program and it debuted on Sunday, with about 30 people running in 20-degree weather.

“He acted with grace and calmness and assurance,” said Burris. “That was how he carried himself. There wasn’t an ounce of pretension to him.”

Provided photo – Wayne Burlison, back row fourth from left, helped start a running revolution in Albion. This Run for God group posed for a picture at the Strawberry Festival in Albion.

Burris visited Burlison often while he was home, fighting the disease since his diagnosis about three months ago. Burlison had a stack of cards from people in the community. He was surprised by the outpouring of well-wishers and the many prayers.

“He didn’t realize the impact he had on people,” Burris said.

Burlison left an imprint that will last for years and generations with his students and others in the community, Burris said.

“This story isn’t done,” he said. “It’s only just beginning.”

Jason Smith, the Lyndonville Central School superintendent, played in the Batavia Concert Band and Mark Time Marchers with Burlison. Smith, when he worked at Albion as an assistant principal, also was on the hiring committee that picked Burlison, who previously taught music at Kendall.

“Wayne was a talented and skilled musician, who often would advocate at his concerts of the great benefits and joys of listening to live music,” Smith said. “I recall one of his favorite pieces to play and conduct was ‘America The Beautiful.’ He will be sorely missed in our community bands, but thanks to his teaching and passion for music, his influence will last for years and years.”

The family will receive friends at the Albion Free Methodist Church (corner of Platt and State streets) Monday from 1 to 5 p.m. Family and friends are invited to attend a funeral service at the Albion First Presbyterian Church (corner of Rt. 98 and E. State St.) on Tuesday at 4 p.m.