Friends and family say farewell to Bill Earl

Music fills the celebration of life
August 19, 2017

Bill Earl's farewell was filled with music, the same as the life he lived.

The music man of Lewes died Aug. 12 at age 96 after a lifetime of performing, teaching and sharing his love of music with everyone he met.

Friends and family gathered Aug. 16 at Bethel United Methodist Church where they sang and shared their memories of the man.

“We can't sing all his favorites because Sunday would come, and we would still be singing,” said Earle Baker, pastor of Bethel church.

Earl began his music career in western Pennsylvania, where he grew up and attended college. He played music with the Air Force Band while serving in World War II, and after his service earned a master's degree in music from Columbia University. He worked as a pianist in New York City, rubbing elbows with Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Irving Berlin, before taking a teaching job in the Montgomery County, Md., school system, where he taught for 29 years.

After retiring from teaching and moving to Lewes with his wife Haide, Earl formed the Lewes Men's Community Chorus in 1988 and continued to spread his love of music throughout the community. He wrote the official songs for Lewes and for Rehoboth Beach.

Sharon Kreitzer, a friend of Earl and Haide, shared stories of visits to the couple's home and the boxes of sheet music they owned. “We were never at a loss for music,” she said.

She laughed when she described how one never left the Earl home without photocopies of his music. “Or, how my family referred to it – homework,” she said.

But Kreitzer said she is forever grateful for knowing Earl.

“Your music will live in our hearts forever,” she said. “The angels in heaven now have a new music director.”

Charlie Wagner, minister of pastoral care at Bethel, said he remembers visiting the couple and hearing him play the piano, sing songs and sing duets with Haide. “It was my own personal concert for 25 minutes,” he said. “What a gift it was to me. I also received handouts – homework.”

Earl's celebration of life was filled with songs sung by the Lewes Men's Community Chorus and audience. One member of the men's chorus, a fellow Air Force airman, regaled the audience with the official Air Force song, “Wild Blue Yonder.”

Bruce Miller, pastor of St. Matthews by the Sea in Fenwick Island, was a friend of Earl's and former member of the men's chorus. He sang a solo about never growing old, in honor of his friend.

Miller compared Earl to Peter Pan, a man with the spontaneity of a boy. Comparing photos of Earl in his teens to those in his 90s, he said, there was little change.

“God was glorified in Bill Earl's music, the boy who never grew up,” he said.

Earl's memorial ended with a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin' In.”

About 50 people filed out of the Fourth Street church behind the flag-draped casket, and they continued walking two blocks north on Savannah Road to Bethel's cemetery.

There, the music continued as a bugler played “Taps.” And lest anyone should wonder which grave is Earl's, it's the black granite replica of a grand piano.