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Mr. Seckinger Postscript Continued

In a 2015 Duke Energy video about the CYESO, Duke Energy Foundation director of external affairs Amy Mangan recalled Seckinger once telling her, “I’m an old man and I don’t know how many more years I have to live. But I do hope I will live to hear music played by the youth in our community.”

He did live to hear them play, and it brought him great joy up until his death May 31 at age 91.

“Music changed my life,” Seckinger said many times. 

He had been offered free music lessons and an instrument by the dean of the University of Florida’s School of Music — if he would play the double bass in the symphony orchestra.

For the simple farm boy, this gave him the social skills he had been lacking. From there, he went on to play in dance bands and jazz bands, in addition to his other varied endeavors. 

This formative experience had so changed him, that he wanted the youths of Citrus County to also have that same opportunity.

He had told the Chronicle that most youth symphony orchestras recruit existing music students and train them for a professional career. But he wanted something different.

Following the El Sistema method that started in Venezuela in 1975, Seckinger wanted to take students and start from the basics — “This is a note and it sounds like this,” he said. 

“Our purpose is to use classical music to enrich the students’ minds, as far as character and intellect. We want them to have opportunities for learning and for success,” he said. 

So, in 2011, with an idea and a desire but without any instruments, music teachers or even a place to hold classes, Seckinger wrote a letter to Vinny Dolan, the state president of then-Progress Energy.

“I received a copy of that letter,” Mangan said. “It was the most beautiful, articulate letter asking if our company would be interested in supporting his dream for a youth orchestra. “Vinny and I were both very moved by it, and I called Harold and we met at Chili’s, and that began one of my most cherished professional and personal friendships.”

She said they talked about how he was particularly interested in providing music lessons and instruments to children whose families couldn’t afford them.

“I had hoped to organize small groups of students and to teach them classical music as a learning process in their lives,” Seckinger had said.

The Progress Energy Foundation provided an initial grant, and now as Duke Energy, the company has continued to support the youth orchestra.

Grants from the company have allowed CYESO to purchase instruments, hire instructors and provide scholarships for students.

Walter Wynn, CYESO executive director, said Seckinger was an inspiration to everyone on the CYESO board and won people over with his enthusiasm and passion.

“It’s really special for these children, because the school district eliminated their orchestra program a number of years ago...and there’s no other place in the county for young people to learn classical music,” he said.

Rebecca Limehouse, CYESO president, was with Seckinger from the beginning.

“Frankly, given the state of music programs in the county at that time, specifically symphonic programs, I thought he was crazy,” she said. “But, we sat and talked for about three hours in a coffee shop in Inverness, and as he described his vision for this orchestra, his enthusiasm won me over.”

Today, the orchestra has about 50 students.

“Harold worked absolutely tirelessly to make it the success it is today,” she said, “and I firmly believe it would never have made it without his dedication and passion. The same infectious enthusiasm that drew me in won over so many others in the county who became our board, staff, donors, volunteers, parents, and students. 

“You could always see his face light up when he described the orchestra and its many students. He never missed a board meeting, never missed a recital, and drove back and forth across the county who knows how many times, speaking about the orchestra,” she said. “He always encouraged the students individually; it was obvious he had so much care for every single one of the kids who entered our program. He never took anyone in this project for granted, always gave appreciation where it was due, and didn’t take nearly the credit he deserved for the incredible work he accomplished.” 

Limehouse, who now lives in Marion County, said one of her favorite memories of her mentor and friend was at her wedding in 2013. 

As she introduced her new husband to him, Seckinger stood up, stuck a finger in the groom’s face and said, “Look. I’ve lived in and around Marion County for 80 years and I know every nook and cranny. You be good to Rebecca.” 

The twinkle in his eye betrayed his harsh words, she said. “Every so often after a board meeting he’d pull me aside ... and remind me he was proud of me, and that I should never stop doing the things I was passionate about.”

He was so loved by his students that when they heard that his health was failing, they wanted to go to his house to play for “Mr. Harold,” as they called him, Walter Wynn said.

They will get the opportunity at the celebration of life for Harold Seckinger, 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, at Heinz Funeral Home, 2507 State Road 44, Inverness. People are encouraged to bring their instruments.

“He was the consummate gentleman and quiet leader,” Mangan said. “He wanted to make a difference in others’ lives, to leave Citrus County a better place, and he did in a variety of ways.

“He was extraordinary,” she said. “He lived a beautiful and inspired life, and we were lucky to have known him.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.