A local man who has become a legend in his own time was honored again on August 6 by two very special groups of his friends.
Don Elkins may not have been a native of Logan County, but he definitely made his mark when he came to Logan in the 1960s and became Logan High School’s most legendary marching band leader.
Under Elkins leadership the band traveled to New York and Florida and performed on live television on the Orange Bowl and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Along the way Elkins impacted many lives. Many of his former students went on to make their mark as community leaders, elected officials and CEOs of companies.
Elkins was honored by members of the Kiwanis Club of Logan, for which he has been a stalwart for many decades, and members of the Logan High School Band’s alumni group. He was also honored by WSAZ a local network news affiliate as their “Hometown Hero” for his many achievements and decades of community service.
“That is what I am proudest of,” Elkins said, following a television interview. “All these people who were my students… they did so well in life. And none of them ever were hampered by humble beginnings in rural West Virginia.”
Elkins came to Logan High School after working at Scott High School in his native Boone County for five years. He immediately became friends with members of the school’s athletics program such as Willie Akers, Logan High’s legendary basketball coach, and Tank Williams. Both old friends were present on Thursday to help honor their friend.
They also shared many a touching or funny story. Williams recalled an incident in Virginia where a bigot did not want to let students from the school get off the bus because some of them were black. Elkins stood up to the man and told him off.
Willie Akers also recalled those days when Elkins and his band worked closely with the sports department at LHS.
“Trailways charged $78 to go to Huntington and back,” Akers said. “It was cheaper to use them than to take the school bus.” Akers also recalled the strict discipline Elkins used to make the LHS band the best in the state. “Don came in and he was like another coach.”
The front meeting room of Gatti’s Pizza Buffet was packed with ex-band members and longtime Kiwanians who showed up to show their love and support for Don Elkins, noted former bandmember Janice Stone. Banners and mementos of his epic career surrounded part of the room.
Stone explained that the band had a reunion earlier this year and agreed the best way to show their thanks to Elkins would be by forming an ongoing scholarship.
“We raised over $10,000,” said Doug Harris, another former band member.
Harris was in the LHS band in 1964-66. “Mr. Elkins took us so many places,” he said.
Harris explained that in September of 2014 the band had a reunion and decided to try and honor Elkins in some way.
“He was more than our band’s director, he was a mentor,” Harris added.
The group planned a special event to honor Elkins on June 6 at the Logan Country Club. By working closely with his wife Elnora, they kept the whole thing a secret from him.
“He thought he was going to an event honoring Willie Akers and Jerry West,” Harris explained. Some 18 former bandmembers reunited in an ensemble and performed and announced the results of the Don Elkins Scholarship Fund. June 8 was declared Don Elkins Day in the City of Logan and another of his former students, Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti, presented Elkins with the key to the city. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared Elkins a Distinguished West Virginian as well.
“He was truly surprised,” Stone said.
Jean Ray discussed how the Don Elkins Scholarship Fund was set up by the Logan County Charitable and Education Foundation. She said the Foundation was started by the 1990s by the late Martha Jane Becker to give back to the community.
“And that is exactly what this group did,” Ray said, noting that as soon as it was announced donations began coming in from across the US. Many donors sent more than one donation as well. The fund now is endowed with over $15,000. “This means, Don, that you had a real impact on the people in this group,” she said, noting the Foundation oversees around two dozen funds which gave out several scholarships this past year.
“I am sure Martha Jane is smiling,” Ray said. “…We have a good vehicle going and I hope we can keep it growing.”
The oldest former LHS band member present was a fellow Kiwanian, Ed Eiland. The youngest present was Terri Diamond, who discussed the photo album created of the June 6 event. She noted hat the Logan High School Marching Band was more than just a group, “it is a family.”
J.D. Charles is a freelance writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner.Reach