Friends and colleagues of McDaniel professor Steven "Bo" Eckard, who died unexpectedly Thursday, Aug. 25, say the professor leaves behind a lengthy musical legacy at the college, from inspired students to ongoing musical groups.
Eckard, who served as the director of jazz studies, began teaching at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel, in 1984. He soon became known throughout the campus for his passion for music and dedication to his students and the college community.
Eckard's influence can be felt throughout the McDaniel music department, having expanded the school's jazz band from merely three students to two full outfits, whose annual performances were among the highlights of the McDaniel entertainment calendar. He also founded the school's Electric Bass Ensemble, and the World Music Connection, devoted to bringing music from across the globe to the McDaniel community.
In addition to his teaching career, Eckard also played bass in touring bands up and down the East Coast, according to his wife, Leslie. Eckard's work with the Lost Cowboy Band and the Essentials took him around the D.C. area and to New York City for a performance at CBGB.
"He was incredible," Leslie Eckard said. "He was a really well-rounded individual between his teaching and music careers."
Linda Kirkpatrick, director of instrumental music at McDaniel, said Eckard was a unique personality and a force for the department as well as the entire school.
"He inspired so many people to continue with their music when they got here," Kirkpatrick said. "Even if they were a biology or an English student, he didn't care. As long as you played an instrument, he would talk you into doing something with the school."
Under Eckard's tenure, the Monday night and Thursday night jazz bands grew into one of the main entertainment draws of the school year, Kirkpatrick said.
"I remember watching one of the concerts and looking out into the concert and saw some of the dads in the audience," Kirkpatrick said. "They had this look of envy in their eyes. It wasn't about their children. They wanted to be Bo. He played electric bass and was in rock bands. It's what every middle-aged man wanted to be. That was the fantasy."
Henry Reiff, an education professor at McDaniel, was a bandmate and close friend of Eckard's. He said the most notable thing about Bo was his sense of humor.
"He was the consummate musician's joke-teller archivist. He had a joke for every situation," Reiff said. "My favorite joke he used to tell was, 'What's the difference between a musician and a Domino's pizza? A Domino's pizza can feed a family of four.'"
In addition to his sense of humor, Reiff said it was Eckard's devotion to his students and all of the members of the McDaniel community that is his lasting legacy. Eckard was more determined to make sure all of the musicians were enjoying themselves and loving music than he was to develop into the top ranked jazz band in the country, Reiff said.
"He embodied that part of McDaniel that's about caring and nurturing faculty," Reiff said. "That's what we brand ourselves as and he lived that. Hundreds of students here feel like Bo drew them in and felt a great rapport with him. A lot of times, I'd see him on campus hanging and talking to students and telling them the same bad jokes he told me."
Reiff said Eckard brought a diverse set of musical influences to the campus, participating in a rock band, jazz band, Latin band and the mariachi band Mariachi Sin Nombres, which performed throughout Westminster. In addition, Eckard participated in the Chamber Music on the Hill and Common Ground on the Hill festivals as well as the school's many theatrical productions.
Leslie Eckard said many people knew the gregarious and humorous side of her husband, but may not have realized that he had a sentimental side as well.
"He had this bravado, but he also had this serious side," Leslie Eckard said. "He was a very loving person, and was almost like Abraham Lincoln. He made people comfortable by being folksy, but he was really quite brilliant."
In addition to his wife, Eckard is survived by his daughters, Anna, a senior at McDaniel, and Stephanie, a senior at Winters Mill High School. The funeral will be private, but a celebration of Eckard's life, to be held on the McDaniel campus, will be announced in the coming days.