Two tributes honoring the life and legacy of former Dover High School band director Leonard “Lenny” Knight Jr. will be held this week at Dover High School.
The first will be a performance by current and former members of the Rolling Thunder drum line, planned for 6 p.m. Friday, March 24.
A viewing is planned between 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday, March 25 at the school, with services conducted beginning immediately afterward.
Both events will take place at the school.
Knight, 46, unexpectedly died March 14 from complications of diabetes.
Knight is being remembered as many things -- conductor, performer, mentor and friend. But he’s primarily thought of as a man whose love of music and the students he taught was all-encompassing.
As a student at Dover High School, Knight played percussion in the Senators band. After completing his studies there in 1989, he graduated from Delaware State University and, in what easily could be considered a bit of karma, returned to the Senators band in 2000 to lead its drum section.
“He had a lot of energy and he was determined to do a good job and pursue what he wanted to do,” retired band director Ron Shomo recalled. “We all admired him for that.”
After Shomo’s retirement, Knight was hired in 2007 as the band’s permanent director.
‘Always banging around’
Former Capital School Board member Kay Sass knew Knight well.
“He was the kind of teacher that could develop relationships with kids,” she said. “He always embraced life and it showed in the way he was with kids.”
Born into an Air Force family while they were stationed on the island of Guam, Knight came to Delaware in 1983 when his father was reassigned to Dover Air Force Base.
Lucas A. Knight, now living in Iowa, said his older brother always had an abiding love of music.
“It was always there, even before he joined the band,” Lucas said. “He was always banging around, listening to little, intricate music. He could hear things no one else would hear.”
Knight received his first snare drum while attending the elementary school at Dover Air Force Base.
“He always knew he would be a percussionist,” Lucas said.
Knight played baseball and football, but only until his junior year at Dover High.
“He had to make a decision, whether he would move on to the varsity team or stay in band,” Lucas said. “We all know what he chose.”
While at Dover High, Knight established and built up the school’s renowned Rolling Thunder drum line, giving it the mottos of “pride, precision and perfection.” The drum line has performed regularly in parades, pro basketball games and NASCAR events, winning numerous competitions.
At the same time he was at Dover, Knight became director of the Hammerin’ Hawks drum line at Delaware Technical Community College and also served as marching band director for the annual Blue-Gold game.
“He always had super-interesting marching shows, based on contemporary music,” recalled Tina Huff, now retired as assistant superintendent of the Capital School District. “The kids loved that music and doing those shows.”
Huff worked with Knight for more than a decade.
“I would call him a very passionate man,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “He worked extremely hard, even when his health wasn’t the best.”
Knight recently had been dealing with complications from diabetes, but didn’t allow his medical issues to slow him down.
“His motto was always, ‘Push through,’” recalled friend Michael Gleasner. “He’d had a hard time the last few years, and it took a toll on him physically, but it never stopped him from working with the kids.
“You could tell he was tired sometimes, but he’d never let that be bigger than what he had to do with the kids,” he said. “If they had a performance, he was going to be there, regardless.”
Although his son was in the Dover High band, Gleasner got to know Knight away from the podium and marching field.
“I’d known who he was for years,” Gleasner said. “We hit if off personally and became really good friends.
“We’d share a couple of laughs and jokes, a movie, dinner, just hanging out.”
Although his students almost unreservedly admired Knight, he could be a tough taskmaster.
“To say the least,” former DHS drum line member Steve Galvin said. “He drove everyone to do their best. Even if you didn’t think you could do it, he’d push you and he’d say ‘keep pushing.’ He always lived up to his motto.”
He will be missed
In 2015, after 15 years with the Capital School District, Knight returned to DSU as the school’s assistant band director.
“The decision to leave Dover High School was probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Knight told the Dover Post at the time. “One of the things I’m really going to miss is working with the kids and seeing them grow into amazing young men and women.”
DSU Director of Bands Harvey Bullock Jr. said Knight’s passion for his work rubbed off on his students.
“He really was a great motivator to the kids, to push them to do their ultimate best,” he said. “He’d instill the pride he had in being a part of this band and transfer that to them.”
Knight’s contributions to music and to the teaching of music won’t soon be forgotten, Bullock said.
“The impact he made -- not only on myself but on the community of Dover and throughout the state -- really cannot be measured,” Bullock said. “His legacy will live on, but he will surely be missed.”
Dover High School Alumni Association is reportedly considering a scholarship in Knight’s name to be awarded to a deserving senior band member.
Arrangements for the services on March 25 are being handled by the Bennie Smith Funeral Home, Dover. Letters of condolence may be sent and a guestbook signed at benniesmithfuneralhome.com.