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INVERNESS — Kevin Coward made music come alive.
As the music teacher at Inverness Primary School, he brought life and enthusiasm and laughter to each of the school’s 686 students.
“Everybody at Inverness Primary loved music because of him,” said IPS Principal Marlise Bushman. “Before he arrived in 2010 we had kids that had never shown an interest in music. Now we have 130 to 150 in chorus — everybody wanted to be in chorus with Mr. Coward. He was an extraordinary teacher.”
Kevin Coward, 44, died Wednesday after a brief and sudden illness.
He had grown up in Michigan and studied music at the University of Michigan and earned a master’s degree in voice performance from the University of South Florida.
Coward sang tenor professionally and taught music at the University of Tampa and then for the Hillsborough County school system before coming to Citrus County.
“He was my grandson’s favorite teacher,” said Sharon Concidine. “Every morning when I dropped him off at school, Mr. Coward was opening car doors and greeting all the kids with a smile, a hug and my grandson’s favorite — a high five.”
IPS art teacher Holly Herndon described him as “vibrant.”
“He was always singing,” she said. “You could always hear him singing from down the hall. Everyone he spoke to or met he left fingerprints on their heart.”
One of Coward’s methods of calling the roll in class: instead of saying, “Here,” when he called the students’ names, he would have them sing their favorite food — “macaroni and cheese!” or “creamed corn!”
Or he would take a drum and drum the rhythm to the student’s name.
“He was famous for his beach balls,” Bushman said. “He always included a song in his Christmas program about decorating the tree with ornaments, and he’d bring out these big beach balls — his ‘ornaments’ — and the kids would bat them around the cafeteria as they sang. It became a tradition. And he was the heart of our patriotic programs.”
Sandy Cross, IPS teacher and organizer of the patriotic veterans programs, said Coward not only taught music, but honor and respect, being a good citizen and the importance of patriotism.
“The kids listened to him because they loved and respected him,” she said.
IPS parent Dawn Martin said she loved seeing Coward each morning at drop-off.
“My kids absolutely loved him,” she said. “They remember the beach balls in class and were always happy when it was music day. Citrus County lost a great music educator.”
Lauren Reed said Coward inspired her son with his love of music and now he wants to be a musician.
“He told me that Mr. Coward was the first music teacher that didn’t ‘teach out of a book.’ I am very happy that my son had a chance to have such an inspiring person in his life, even if it was for a short time. My prayers to his family, friends and all the students and staff at IPS,” she said.
Paula Castro said, “He had a chemistry that captivated his students and enabled him to build relationships with our children, to teach them and hold their attention like not many teachers can. I am so glad that my child has had the opportunity to positively be influenced by Mr. Coward. He will be greatly missed.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.