Ford City Benefactor Honored by School

Lenape Elementary Band Director Bob Skamai unveiled this portrait of local musician and benefactor Wallace Tylinski at last night’s holiday music concert at the school. Tylinski donated money following his death last year toward a new school sound system. Wallace’s family – including (on left) son, Don (with wife, Doreen) and (behind Skamai) daughter, Lori – were invited to the unveiling.

By Jonathan Weaver

While last night will be remembered by dozens of Lenape Elementary 5th and 6th grade band and chorus students as their holiday concert, something that happened in the last five minutes will be what sticks with the Tylinski Family.

The Ford City-based family was invited to attend not because they had a relative on stage, but because of a generous monetary donation given earlier this semester.

Through use of funds in the Edna F. Tylinski Memorial Fund, husband, Wallace -who died last December at the age of 92 – donated money toward the school music program.

About a dozen members of the Tylinski Family attended the band and chorus concert – including Wallace’s two children, Lori and Don.

Lori, a corporate attorney in New York, and Don, a former local school superintendent turned business co-founder in South Carolina, both played piano briefly as well, but said they didn’t have their father’s skill.

“We tried to follow in Dad’s footsteps, but I don’t think either one of us were as talented. Dad could sit down, listen to music and play it – he was unbelievable,” Lori said. “He was just gifted.”

Don – who lives close to Lenape Elementary – said Wallace started playing piano when he was five years old and continued into his late-80’s and was devoted to education through both the Armstrong School District board of directors and through music.

“He was quite a pianist, loved children and wanted to express his love by giving back to the kids, whether it be a sound system or instruments,” Don said.

With memorial fund donations, books have also been donated annually in memory of Wallace’s late wife and Ford City teacher for 50 years, Edna, since her passing in August 2011.

Elementary Band Director Bob Skamai was told about the donation opportunity before Don’s wife, Doreen, retired last school year.

“She came into my room (before she retired effective in March) and said, ‘Bob, my father-in-law left some money for the music program in the Ford City area and since he played in big bands, (the family) might choose the band this year and maybe chorus next year to benefit the students – is there anything you could use?’”

The music teacher’s thoughts immediately went to replacing a 15-17 year old antiquated stereo system with a $1,500 surround sound system.

“I use it every day, every class, every school year – it’s just worn out. The ‘on’ button is stuck from a constant amount of use that I have to use the remote!”

“I’m humbled – in my 30-some years of teaching, they’ve been extra generous. I’m touched with the kindness of all of them,” Bob said. “(The Tylinski Family) are good, generous caring people.

“Christmas is a time for giving,” Bob said before the portrait was unveiled.

Bob also was fond of his brother, George’s, portrait art and figured it would be a great way to honor the Ford City donor.

“I’d seen my brother’s artwork before, and it’s absolutely amazing what he does.”

George – also Chief Clerk at the Armstrong County Courthouse – said the portrait took more than 15 hours and three “significant” revisions to complete.

“When I was asked to do it, I thought it was an honor to commemorate Mr. Tylinski – I’ve always heard very good things about him,” George said.

A portrait artist for 30 years, George sketches about 10-15 photos each year – especially as birthday, graduation or Christmas gifts. In each portrait, a Bible verse from the Book of 1 Corinthians 10:31 – which ends “In all things, give glory to God” – is hidden.

Lori and Don were amazed by the details emphasized in the portrait last night.

“He had a very mischievous side to him, and his eyes were always glistening – that’s a very appropriate portrait of him,” Don said.

Bob – who knew Wallace based on when he would sub in at trumpet with the Johnny Murphy Orchestra in Leechburg – only recognized Wallace’s human nature. He saw a rough outline of the portrait at Thanksgiving and the final work Sunday.
“He was always an advocate for the benefit of children – always a positive person,” Bob said. “And, his family still carries on what they were taught.”

Bob remembered that even Doreen’s students were courteous and polite.

School Principal Brian Thimons and Lenape Elementary PTO parents agreed that purchasing framing for the portrait of Wallace would be an appropriate sign of generosity.

The portrait unveiling also sparked a wave of applause from parents and guests in the crowded auditorium.

“(Wallace) will be smiling forever when he hears that music – it’s a perfect tribute,” Doreen concluded.

Don and Doreen’s son, Anthony – who would often accompany his grandfather to his concerts and help him set up his keyboard– volunteered hours to try and install the new system, but it is not up and running yet.