Day 133, Living life on my terms.
It was my first trip to the District Band Festival and it was the first time Coudersport had attended in at least 20 years. We always had the IU9 festival and that was about it.
The guest conductor for the event was Dr. Ned Deihl from Penn State. He was the director of the “Blue Band” so it was pretty cool to have him conduct us. When he was introduced, the group started doing the WE ARE…PENN STATE chant.
I was so impressed by the quality of the music and the musicians who participated. I had never been a part of any group that was so polished and professional sounding. Even now, I will occasionally pop the cassette in my car stereo and listen to the music. It brings all of the memories right back to me.
One of the best parts of the festival was making all of the new friends from schools as far away as Erie. A few of them even ended up at IUP and studied music as well; it made me realize how it really is a small world.
The only problem now with remembering that festival and all of the enjoyment that ensued is that my director at the time was Greg Eldred. That is the same Greg Eldred who shot his ex-wife while she played the organ for church on a Sunday morning just a few short years ago.
Back in 1987, he was a different man. He had just been discharged from the Army where he was a member of the Army Band following his undergraduate work at IUP.
He was kind of quiet and shy, as well as a little bit introverted. He liked to tell jokes and would give a strange little giggle at the punch line, even though 90% of the time it wasn’t really funny. Other than being a little quirky, I had no idea of the demons that were inside of him. None of us did.
Since my family did not own a car, I was dependent on him for a ride to and from the festival. We would ride together in his little grey Chevelle hatchback and talk about all sorts of things. Usually we talked about music or ways we could improve our own band in Coudersport. Never once did I get any clue that he would be the type of guy to do what he did.
While I was in College, I student taught with him for a week during my junior year. I had a great experience at the elementary school, teaching lessons and classes with him was a real joy. The kids all seemed to like him really well and they were all happy to take part in the exercises.
I vividly remember the day he introduced me to Darlene Sitler; she was beautiful, talented, confident, caring, and well spoken. He seemed truly happy with her and I thought she would definitely make him an outstanding wife. Now I just wonder where it all went wrong.
Over the years, I actually lost touch with my former teacher and had not thought about him for quite a while. Then about a week or so before the incident at the church, I bumped into Greg as I was leaving the Jubilee store in town. He was walking in and said “hello, Bill.” I said hello back as a courtesy because I did not immediately recognize him. It wasn’t until I got out to my car that I realized who it was. He was sort of disheveled with a grey beard and just didn’t have the same old glow in his eye. I have often wondered if I had stopped or went back to talk to him if could have picked up on any clues as to what he was planning on doing. Could I have helped him? Could I have stopped him from following through with his plan? Could I have saved Darlene? I guess I will never know, and I am deeply saddened by that fact.
It is hard for me to imagine what those people in that church felt that day. The horror is really devastating and the crime is reprehensible. I pray for those people every day as I am sure they are still haunted by those images.
I also pray for the students Darlene left behind. She was so loved and respected; to take her away from them is unconscionable.
How did the man I knew become the monster that destroyed a church, a school, and a community? I don’t think we will ever know, but at least he will never breathe free air again and that is comforting.
Today I want to dedicate my progress to Darlene Sitler and all of those people who loved her. She was truly a gem and will always be remembered and missed.
|Bill Pekarski This stained glass is located in the First Presbyterian Church of Coudersport and was dedicated to the memory of Darlene Sitler.|