Billy Akers is pursuing his dream of being an orchestra teacher thanks in large part to his music teachers in the Morton School District.
"I was deeply inspired by them," he said.
One of those inspirational teachers was Heidi White. She was Akers' music teacher when he was a third-grader at Jefferson Elementary School.
Now 23 and a December graduate of Bradley University with a bachelor's degree in music, Akers is in the Hilltop String Quartet that is headlining the annual Heidi White Memorial Concert on March 27 at Grace Church in Morton.
White died March 10, 2004, from complications from child birth at age 27.
She was a teacher in the Morton School District from 1999 to 2004, teaching music and chorus at Jefferson and chorus at Morton Junior High School. She also directed the school district's upper elementary chorus.
Proceeds from the concert held in her honor go to the Heidi White Scholarship and Heidi White Memorial Music Endowment funds at the Morton Community Foundation that provide scholarships and grants to Morton students for music-related activities like summer camps and the purchase of musical equipment.
Forty-one scholarships have been awarded since 2005.
Akers, who plays cello, is one of two Morton residents in the Hilltop String Quartet. The other is violinist Hannah Gudeman.
Also is the group are violinist Molly Wilson of Peoria and Lindsay Kozlowski of Orland Park, who plays viola.
Gudeman, Wilson and Kozlowski are Bradley students.
"It's come full circle for me," Akers said. "I owe so much to my music teachers in Morton and now I'm able to help out their students. I'm looking forward to performing in the concert with our quartet."
A 2013 Morton High School graduate, Akers is a part-time fifth-grade orchestra teacher at Chiddix Junior High School in Normal and a substitute first- through eighth-grade orchestra teacher at Pekin Public Schools as he looks to become a full-time orchestra teacher.
Shortly before she died, White talked with Morton Junior High School band director Katrina Fitzpatrick about establishing an annual concert that showcased the Morton School District's faculty.
After her death, White's idea was transformed by Fitzpatrick and others into the annual memorial concert that normally features Morton students, faculty and a headlining group.
"The school year in which Heidi died was my second in the Morton School District and first at the junior high," Fitzpatrick said. "Heidi and I shared an office. I was 23 then and she was 27. It's funny now, but I remember thinking then that she was 'old.'
"Heidi was incredibly energetic, inspirational and passionate. She was so positive. She loved her students and her students loved her."
White was known for telling her students before performances that they're the cheese on a pizza ... the best part.
Fitzpatrick said the memorial concert raises about $2,000 annually. Most goes to the grants and scholarships. The remainder goes toward expenses and into the funds.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.