Ken Williams was many things to many people. He was a loving husband, a caring father, a dedicated colleague and for everyone who has taken music lessons at Malvern over the past 32 years, he was their fearless leader.
Williams died in a traffic accident on Interstate 30 on Tuesday, April 26 near mile marker 86. He had stopped to help a motorist who had been wrecked in a semi-truck when he was struck by a vehicle.
The Malvern School District took to social media the following day to announce the tragedy of his heroic death. “Tragically, we lost one of our own last night when the band’s longtime manager, Ken Williams, died in a car accident. Mr. Williams was dedicated and passionate about the band and seeing his students succeed both musically and in life,” the District said. “Our condolences go out to the Williams family and we ask that you keep the Williams family, District colleagues, and all current and former members of Mr. Williams.
students in your thoughts.
Williams was originally from Van Buren and had worked in music education for nearly 40 years, starting with the Gravette School District and moving to the Prairie Grove School District before settling in Malvern. He graduated from Van Buren High School and later earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his master’s degree from UCA. He was a member of the Razorback
Marching Band and helped with the UCA Marching Band while in graduate school.
“He knew he wanted to be a band manager the first time he walked into the band room at Van Buren Jr. High,” said the late Williams’ wife, Cindy. “He never considered any other profession. He loved his job, the children and the people he worked with.
Williams met Cindy at a Prairie Grove School District faculty meeting. She was a speech therapist in elementary school while he was director of the high school orchestra. The couple had two adult children, Grant Williams and
Grace Ann Church.
The couple met in the fall of 1986 and married in August.
“He and our mom both gave us piano lessons when we were kids,” Church said. “And he pushed me to stick with it. When I changed schools in middle school, I was in a band for a year and he always wanted to help me practice my clarinet. And even when I left the band, they continued to encourage and support my interest in choir, theater, whatever.
In his later years at Malvern, he had mentioned retiring at the end of each school year. Yet the following year he was still there, doing what he loved.
“He planned to retire on paper after this school year and continue working for at least two years,” Cindy said. “He really never wanted to retire. He loved music and couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t as dedicated as him. For him, it was pure pleasure.
On May 3, the Malvern High School Band played their spring concert honoring Williams. The band was led by Jon Stevenson, who is the manager of the Malvern Middle School Band.
“The students and I realize Mr. Williams would have wanted us to have the gig no matter what,” Stevenson said. “I just wanted them to have the opportunity to perform and dedicating the concert to him seems like the right way to go.”
Three groups participated in the concert. The beginner group, the eighth grade group, and the high school group.
The tracklist included Randall Standridge’s “Celebration,” Brian Balmages’ “Midnight Sky,” Timothy Broege’s “American Verses,” and several others.
“It’s really moving that they’ve dedicated this concert to him,” Church said. “He worked really hard every year to make sure all of his students were ready for concerts, competitions, football matches, whatever. He wanted to make sure that each child lived up to the potential he saw in them. He was the same with us growing up. He saw the potential in us in everything we did and pushed us to do our best. He always held us responsible for everything. We hardly ever ran away with stuff when we were little.
The many colleagues and friends he worked with across the state shared memories and stories of Williams’ character and personality. Some of the students he taught have gone on to pursue their own musical careers, such as Bryson Clegg, who was the drum major of the MHS Band from 2013 to 2015. Clegg graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2019 from OBU and is currently completing his graduate studies at Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he studied musical performance.
Clegg recalls that Williams wanted the group to be family-oriented. The band members weren’t playing for Williams, but he wanted the students to understand that they were playing for the people on either side of them.
“He always instilled the importance of being on time and making sure we were prepared in every aspect,” Clegg said. “We always started rehearsal 10 minutes early and he always said, ‘When does rehearsal start? 7:50 a.m.’”
Williams’ principles and leadership stem in large part from his faith in Jesus Christ.
At the age of six, he dressed up and walked to the Methodist Church in downtown Van Buren. and at age 12 he joined their adult choir. While in college, he was saved and dedicated his life to Jesus at a Josh McDowell lecture.
“Faith was everything to him,” Church said. He was always ready to share Jesus with anyone and everyone. Everything he did, he wanted to be according to the will of God. He tried so hard to be like Jesus and his death shows it. He was so confident in his sense of humor even with the corniest dad jokes. And he could make a friend anywhere. Always start small conversations with strangers online.
Williams leaves behind a legacy here in Malvern and in the hearts of the many people he touched during his 60 years on this earth.
“The biggest thing about Ken was that he never cared about the results or anything from a walking competition or a concert,” Clegg said. “He told us in high school and even when I worked there, ‘We only care about getting better every day.’ That was his biggest goal for the students, was that they could find ways to be a better musician. That’s why he needs to be remembered. He really embodied what a true teacher.Making students better than they were the day before.