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Stephen Decatur High ‘master teacher’ surprised with celebration

Stephen Decatur High School faculty, staff and students honored the retirement of beloved music and band director J.D. Foell on June 7, with a surprise celebration. 


SDHS choral department member John Gross pays homage to band and music teacher J.D. Foell during a surprise retirement celebration on June 7.
Tara Fischer / Bayside Gazette

Music and band director J.D. Foell retires after 32 years

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer

Current and former Stephen Decatur High School faculty, staff and students honored the retirement of beloved music and band director J.D. Foell on Friday, June 7, with a surprise celebration.

The teacher spent his entire 32-year career at SDHS. He taught marching band, symphonic band, string orchestra, jazz combo, and music theory.

Foell has displayed a deep commitment to fostering a passion for music in his students. Throughout his time in education, the director was an active member of the Eastern Shore Band Directors Association and the Eastern Shore Orchestra Directors Association. He hosted the District V middle school band festival held at Decatur each spring and has aided in the implementation of Maryland’s All Shore Orchestra Festival.

“He made it over the bridge to the Eastern Shore, took on the position as the music director here at Decatur, and for the last 32 years, has given the program and its students everything he was capable of giving,” SDHS theater director and event organizer Brandon Cater said.

Foell graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor’s degree in music education and received his masters of education from Salisbury University.

Fellow educators shared their appreciation for the music enthusiast at the retirement celebration, which was held at Decatur on the lawn by Seahawk Road.

“You set an example for your colleagues, for how to comport themselves with professionalism in the workplace, and you provided guidance and acted as the metronome that kept our corner of the building running on course,” Cater said, addressing Foell. “… I cannot count how many Saturdays or Sundays JD and I would cross paths in the parking lot to pick up where we left off on a Friday with the students to prep for next week. I cannot quantify the respect I have for this man.”

Cater graduated from Stephen Decatur and shares that while he did not have the chance to take Foell’s class, his presence cultivated a positive school environment. The theater director maintained that the band teacher provided him with a “roadmap” to navigating arts education even as a student.

“There are those of you here who had the privilege of sitting across from this man, counting time, bars, and measures, keeping you all on course,” Cater said. “There are those of you who are parents of those students, lending a hand and steering the ship. And for those of you like me who have never had the pleasure, you can all agree that what we saw was a strong leader.”

Choral department member John Gross, finishing his second year at Stephen Decatur, expressed his gratitude to Foell for showing him the ropes in Worcester County. The educator said he was “deeply entrenched” in his office when he first met the retiring educator, riffing through music scores.

“I have come to learn that not only is JD one of the best directors around, but he is also a master teacher, a phenomenal colleague, and a friend,” Gross said. “Over the last two years, this man has taught me what it means to be a music teacher.”

In 2018, Foell and his students won first-place awards in orchestra, marching band, and concert band at the Music in the Park Festival in Loveland, Ohio.

The chorus instructor said that while those in the arts have a reputation for being dramatic and “divas,” Foell, despite his achievements, remains humble. Gross also credited the band director’s rapport with his students and his relationship with his wife Monica, who has lent a hand to SDHS’s musical department for his exceptional legacy.

“Your students, past and present, will miss seeing you here; we’ll miss your sarcastic wit, musical prowess, wisdom, sense of ease, and friendship,” Gross told Foell. “Thank you for the time, energy, and effort spent over the last 32 years doing this job. There are a lot of people whose lives are richer because of you and Monica.”

Cater and fellow educators provided Foell with a cell phone and wireless headphones to send the band director into retirement, encouraging the previously off-the-grid teacher to keep in touch.

This story appears in the June 13, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.