Last week a local educator beloved by many lost his three-year battle with cancer. His family, students, friends and colleagues are now preparing for a memorial service this weekend to bid farewell to this beloved man.
James Daniel "Danny" Falkner was born on the last day of the year in 1949 and was raised in the community of Poker Bend near Panama. Although as a youngster he moved with his family to California several times, LeFlore County was most definitely home. It was also where he met his future wife, Janice Sue Gollihare.
While the pair didn't actually date until the early 70's they knew one another for most of their lives. After graduating from Panama High School in 1968, Falkner went on to Eastern Oklahoma State College and later Oklahoma State University. When he returned with a B.A. in Music Education he began his career right back at Panama High School where he taught science and started the music program.
"He always said that music was his language as much as English was his language. That's the way he thought and communicated with people and his students," said his son, Jay, in an interview about his dad earlier this week. "He always said he could speak better with a guitar than he could just speaking."
In 1975 he and Janice Sue married.
Mr. Falkner, as most of students continued to call him even into adulthood, continued to teach and lead the band as well as performing with a number of local and regional bands.
"He taught scores of students over the years and then later he taught their children," Jay said.
According to Jay Falkner, the longest running stint with one band was in a band called Alibi. One of the members of that band is longtime friend and fellow musician, Terry Barnes.
"I met Danny for the first time way back in 1973. We have been playing music together off and on since that time. He was just the complete gentleman. He was kind and thoughtful and he was one of my best friends. I can't tell you how much the world will be missing with him not here. He was a wonderful man," Barnes said. "He was a special guy. He was always cheerful and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I also never met anyone who didn't like him. That says a lot about him. The world would be a better place if we had several clones of Danny Falkner."
After 10 years at Panama, Falkner moved on to become the band director at Roland Public Schools until the late 1990's when he returned to his roots and took a position right back where he started at Panama High School with a whole new generation of students.
He stayed there until 2004 when he took a position with Carl Albert State College to start a PEP band there. The position later evolved to include teaching music theory and giving instrumental lessons.
"Mr. Falkner was a wonderful, kind man. I am honored to say that I knew him and was able to learn so much from him, not just in music but in life too," said CASC student, Leslie Carberry.
Carberry was a student of Falkner's in junior high school at Panama. Following her graduation from Bokoshe High School last spring she enrolled at CASC where Falkner recruited her to be a member of the PEP Band.
"I will always look up to him and be grateful for the time I was able to spend with him," she said.
Jay, who is also a CASC employee, also credits his dad for giving him his love of music. Saying Mr. Falkner wasn't just his dad but also his best friend.
"He taught me lessons in music and I never realized those lessons were also about life," Jay said.
He told a story about his father's aversion to talent shows saying that he didn't understand why his dad didn't like them so he asked the elder Falkner about it.
"He said, son, you can't judge art. He thought that way about people too. My dad never judged anyone," Jay said.
Mr. Falkner was diagnosed with Lymphoma three years ago. He died on Feb. 8 from complications of the disease.
Because Falkner was also a scientist he new the reality of his disease. He chose to fight and to continue to live his life and play his music.
Jay and Janice Sue decided that Danny deserved to have a memorial at a place that he loved. His friends and colleagues agreed. A memorial service will be held in his honor on Saturday, Feb. 18th at 2 p.m. in the Jim Hamilton Complex Auditorium, on the Carl Albert State College Poteau Campus. On a stage where he himself performed, his friends and family will honor him and his memory.
“Words can’t express how much Dan will be missed at Carl Albert State College. He was loved by the students and the CASC family. The gift of music Dan shared with his students was exceptional, and the difference he made in the lives of so many is something that can’t be replaced," said CASC President Dr. Brandon Webb. "Those of us who had the privilege to work with Dan will hold onto great memories, and we certainly extend our condolences to his family.”
Janice Sue said she knows Danny would have liked the idea. She said she appreciated Dr. Webb and everyone at CASC who helped make it possible. She also thanked all of the people who have called or come by to express their sympathy or tell their own "Danny story" during the last week.
"The number of phone calls and people stopping by and posting their thoughts on things like Facebook have been overwhelming. Thank you doesn't seem like enough for everything that everyone has done," she said.
A music scholarship has been established in Mr. Falkner's name at CASC. The family would like to ask that those wishing to honor him send a scholarship donation, as opposed to sending flowers, to Carl Albert State College, Attn: Foundation,1507 South McKenna, Poteau, OK 74953 with the check memo: Dan Falkner Scholarship.
Dana Dinsmore-Davis, an instructor at CASC, said she thought the idea for the scholarship was an excellent one. She and Mr. Falkner have worked together for a number of years. She said when he was the band director at Roland she was the director at Muldrow.
"So many students have told me how much that he has meant to them as a teacher and a friend. His knowledge in music is just irreplaceable," she said. "He was a brilliant, well rounded musician who was always the kindest and most patient educator. He affected the lives of so many people and he will be missed by us all."