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Making a Difference: Conemaugh Township band director helps people fight cancer

A Conemaugh Township band director is helping people fight cancer, after going through her own battle with breast cancer. (WJAC)

DAVIDSVILLE - A Conemaugh Township band director is helping people fight cancer, after going through her own battle with breast cancer.

She received unconditional love and support from her students while receiving treatment and now, she's doing what she can to help others and she's doing it through music.

Band director Suzette Gardenhour has been with the Conemaugh Township Music Departmentfor 30 years. She teaches fourth to 12th graders.

“I love watching them start out and finish as seniors being successful in whatever direction they choose to go,” Gardenhour said.

Last November, during her busiest time of year, Gardenhour was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was during marching band season,” Gardenhour said. “It was quite a shock obviously."

She quickly received support from the community, especially, from her students.

"They are really and truly a big part of what got me through my journey," Gardenhour said.

Her students rallied behind her as she continued to work, even through six months of chemotherapy and surgery.

“They realized what she was going through and what it took for her to be here every day. I can honestly say the only day she missed was for her treatments," said Mari Grace Ligenfelter, a choral instructor with the Conemaugh Township Music Department.

Gardenhour’s students made her a blanket that said, "Music only makes me stronger."

On the bad days, they certainly knew how to cheer her up.

“They always knew when I didn't feel well. They'd ask what they could do for me, be real low key if I needed them to be, they came in and laughed and cried with me,” Gardenhour said.

Gardenhour is recovering well and is considered cancer-free while receiving preventative treatments.

After it all, she decided to do what she could to make a difference in her community -- through music, of course.

She established the Music Makes Us Stronger fund with just $300 that had been collected by her students who were a part of the 2017 musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”

The fund will support students, music alumni, their children and members of the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association's District 6 who are fighting cancer.

“This is exactly the direction that we could take to continue to make a difference with people suffering and needing help,” Gardenhour said.

Gardenhour and Ligenfelter organized the first fundraising event for the cause. It will be a music department reunion and concert. Alumni and former teachers from as far back as 1938 are invited to perform with current students.

All thanks to Gardenhour’s students, many will get the same support she did.

“I hope it makes the process easier and to let them know there are tons of people out here supporting them and backing them and praying for them,” Gardenhour said.

And now, music will make others stronger, even in the worst of times.

The Conemaugh Township Music Department reunion and fundraiser will be on Nov. 22 at Conemaugh Township High School. Anyone is welcome to attend.

There will be a reception at 6:15 p.m. then the alumni concert will start at 7:30 p.m.

It’s just $5 to attend. There will also be a silent auction and raffles.

With the money raised, the music department will designate an individual or family in need of assistance each year.

Gardenhour hopes this fundraiser will continue for many years to come.

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