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Good Neighbors: Former students raise money for wheelchair van for music teacher

Minutes after Bill Knight's story aired on Daybreak Wednesday, West Herr donated $30,000 to secure a wheelchair van for the beloved music teacher.

JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — William H. Knight, Jr., left a lasting impression on scores of brass instrumental students over his 50 years of teaching. Now, some of those former students are showing their appreciation by raising money for him to buy a new wheelchair-accessible van. 

Not long after he began teaching in Jamestown in the 1960s, Bill Knight suffered a spinal injury that left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He found a way to continue teaching private lessons from his home, and in turn, taught students to conquer their own musical challenges.

"He taught me to love and really appreciate music," said Brynne Deppas, a former trumpet student and current producer for WGRZ-TV. "He made me want to be the best musician that I could be and that definitely bled over into other aspects of my life, to be determined, hard-working, and to put in the time and effort in order to be successful."

Norm Lydell was one of Knight's first students, and they grew so close Knight served as Lydell's best man in his wedding. He says once you meet Knight, you never forget him.

"That spirit that he gives to kids then is passed along through those kids to whatever they pursue whether its sports or music or medicine. That influence just stays with them for many years," said Lydell.

Another friend, Gary Kindberg, said some students considered Knight to be a second father. 

"Bill became such an influence, in not only teaching music, but the talks they had during lessons, and the example that Bill set, and all from a wheelchair," said Kindberg.

So Kindberg, Lydell, and a group of former students and friends came together to start a GoFundMe campaign to replace Knight's badly rundown wheelchair accessible van, a 2007 Dodge Caravan with approximately 120,000 miles on it. The campaign runs through Oct. 1, and as of Sept. 15, they were nearly halfway to their $60,000 goal.

"He just kind of quietly lives his life. Doesn't look for accolades, or the attention or the limelight. It's about the kids. Now through this effort with the van, it's our time to thank Bill and to show how much he's loved for the love he's given to kids and the music." 

Bill lost his wife Linda to cancer in 2018. For more than 40 years, she was his primary caretaker while they raised their three children. Now he lives alone, still teaching from his home, with healthcare workers assisting him eight hours each day. He relies on aides and friends to drive him to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, and outings.

"He always tries to continue to show his support for his students by watching them perform," said Deppas. "I love that the community's coming together to do this for him so that he can continue to get out and enjoy the music and watch his students succeed because I know that's so important to him."

The organizers of the GoFundMe page wrote the following: 

"If you have been a student in his music studio, a parent of one of his students, or a friend/neighbor/colleague of Bill then you will require no further incentive. If you haven't had the pleasure of knowing him directly, then we can assure you that few people are more deserving of your kindness and generosity towards one who has enriched our community through quality music instruction to our youth."

Update:

Just minutes after this story aired on Channel 2's Daybreak, West Herr auto dealership reached out to WGRZ to say they wanted to close the GoFundMe gap, donate $30,000, and secure a van for Bill Knight. A rep from West Herr said CEO Scott Bieler was moved by his story and wanted to show his appreciation for a half-century of teaching.

After buying the van with the $60,000, any additional funds not used will go to Knight for care and medical expenses.

To view the GoFundMe page for Bill Knight, click here.

See previous "Good Neighbors" stories below. To nominate a person or group to be featured as "Good Neighbors" on Channel 2, email Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com.