E. James Forssell, beloved music teacher, dies at 79

vmannix@bradenton.comDecember 27, 2012 

BRADENTON -- For 34 years, Jim Forssell shared his passion for music as a beloved educator at Manatee High School.

For 47 years, his bass baritone on the Hawkins Stadium PA system was part of the pageantry of fall Friday nights as the "Voice of the Hurricanes."

Alas, that voice is still.

Mr. Forssell passed early Christmas morning after a prolonged illness.

He was 79.

"It was tough," his youngest daughter, Joanie Forssell, said Wednesday. "He loved Christmas. Loved having family around him. And that's what he had."

"He was strong to the end,"

son Jim said.

There will be a viewing 10-11 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Baptist Church, 3006 9th Ninth Ave. W., Bradenton, followed by a service at 11 a.m.

Interment for the Army veteran will be next week at Sarasota National Cemetery.

"We try not to take each other for granted, but I'm glad I had him for a long time," said Helen, his wife for 58 years. "We have such wonderful memories."

Many involve Manatee High, where Mr. Forssell taught from 1961 to 1995, a widely admired choral director and music department chairman.

A wing of the school's new performing arts complex bears his name and the E. James Forssell Music Scholarship is now in its 20th year.

"He could get a room quiet with just a look, because he had the respect of everyone," said daughter Julie Lease, who teaches at Palma Sola Elementary School with her sister. "He had a way about him through the music and his manner that created a calmness, and people loved being there so much."

That included his own children.

"He was my dad," Joanie Forssell said. "But to see his capacity for working with kids was an honor for me."

Her brother, too.

"Dad's goal was to develop a love for music in each kid so they could enjoy music the rest of their lives, whether it was in a church choir, or a community chorus, a greater love for music in general," said his son, an MHS guidance counselor. "I think he accomplished that."

Bill Graham, who has a degree in music, will attest to it.

"He was like a father to a lot of kids like me on the borderline. If not for Jim Forssell, I'd have dropped out," said the 1980 alum. "He gave me a lot of inspiration."

"He really cared about us and wanted us to excel, and kids knew that," said Nina Wiley, a 1972 alum. "He made music important."

Calling Hurricane football games was important to Mr. Forsell, as well.

He began announcing games in 1963 and became a Hawkins Stadium staple.

"I can feel the rhythm of the seasons and it never gets old," Mr. Forssell told the Bradenton Herald in August 2000. "It's Friday night, it's the thing to do and just to be a part of that is great."

Then the MHS administration decided to replace him before the 2010 season.

The subsequent uproar didn't change their decision, but the groundswell of support showed the deep regard folks held for Mr. Forssell.

"Most of the time you have to die before you hear that," his son said. "But I told him, 'You got to hear how much you were loved and appreciated by all those whose lives you touched.'"

Mr. Forssell did attend several games the past two seasons as a fan.

"It was good for him," his widow said. "He loved Manatee High School and all those students."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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