UPDATE: Funeral services set for East Ridge High band director - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Funeral services set for East Ridge High band director

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

The East Ridge High School community is grieving the loss of one of their own.

Perry Vandergriff passed away Saturday from a heart attack.

Principal Tammy Helton told Channel 3 Mr. Vandergriff was on an absence of leave for about a month for medical reasons before his death over the weekend.

Helton sent out a statement saying,

"It was more than a job to him. He invested in the lives of his students and they knew he cared about them. His passing has left a huge hole in our East Ridge High School family. He will be missed greatly."

Vandergriff was the band director at East Ridge for more than 20 years.

Teachers and students said he impacted their lives in many ways during his long career.

"His presence will be missed from this place for all time; all time," said Max Gerskin, a teacher at East Ridge. "He was one of those teachers that gave his all. He had a love for his students that went way beyond what you could see. It was more of something that was felt."

Vandergriff taught in the school's Curtis D. Adams Art Center, named after former County Commission Chairman Curtis Adams; a building Vandergriff worked hard to build in 2004.

"You walk into a room full of musical instruments and you hear silence and that silence is louder than any drum or horn or anything else and right now we're honoring that silence," said Gerskin.

As senior band students Payten Perry and Tori Reed entered the band room for the first time without Mr. Vandergriff, they admitted it won't be easy performing without their longtime leader.

"It still really hasn't set in that he's not gonna be in this room again," said Perry. "When he was in this room nothing short of magic was happening."

Since his absence the seniors and others have helped lead the band through what they say has been a tough time.

"You know every time I'm in here I just think what now? You know I just think well if Mr. Vandergriff were here what would he want me to do? You know what would he want to be happening? And I know he would want us to make music," Perry said.

Though Vandergriff's presence will be missed, Perry and Reed said his music will live on.

"He always had a way of making us laugh and he was always good at somehow tying in what we're learning musically into real life and then vice versa like life into music and how everything kind of coexists together," Perry said. "He's never gonna be replaced. Not as a band director. Not as a teacher not in any of our hearts."

A replacement Gerskin also says will be hard to find.

" To even comprehend the idea of trying to find a replacement at this point is you can't fathom that. It's shoes that are too big to fill. Someone who was such a presence at this point we're just, we're shocked, we're saddened and moving forward will be slow; one day at a time, but we'll make it," Gerskin said.

Visitation will be Thursday from 3 until 6 pm at Bethel Assembly of God, 6613 Hixson Pike. 

The funeral service will follow, at 6 p.m.

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