Updated: Feb. 8, 2016 at 10:40 p.m.
Benno Fritz was a unwavering source of positivity and humor for those around him, students and faculty said.
Fritz, the creator and director of the University’s band program and an associate professor of music, died on Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla. at age 54, according to a University release. He is survived by his wife, Alice Mikolajewski, who is a former GW music faculty member, and his son, Harrison.
Fritz directed the symphonic band, orchestra, wind ensemble and Colonial Brass, which plays at GW basketball games. Faculty said he worked closely with the athletics department and Division of Student Affairs to coordinate music for GW events.
During Fritz’s 25-year career at GW, the band grew from a small organization to include more than 100 members, according to the release.
He came to GW as an associate professor of music in 1990 after teaching high school music in Michigan, California and Virginia. Fritz also served as a faculty guide and had an office in Thurston Hall, planning events and serving as a mentor for residents.
Robert Baker, an assistant professor of music, said Fritz would be one of the first to arrive on the National Mall early in the morning on the day of Commencement to prepare for the ceremony and to direct students through the performance.
“He did it professionally. He did it with joy. And every year it was a pleasure to show up and know that Ben would make it great,” Baker said.
Baker said Fritz was “always positive,” and the loss of that energy would be difficult to replace in the music department.
“There are good musicians and there are good teachers, but Ben’s positive force about students, music and about the University is unmatched,” Baker said.
Baker added that Fritz and his wife first met while working together in the department, and that he traveled back and forth from D.C. and Florida to be with her once she took a job in Daytona Beach.
“I think they were very discreet but they started their relationship and had a long-distance relationship,” he said. “That is a tragedy for them, that Ben has passed away and they did not have the future they deserved.”
Baker added that the Colonial Brass will have a moment of silence Wednesday night for Fritz and other memorials will be planned in the coming days. A service is planned in Florida for Monday morning.
A crowdfunding campaign has been started to support GW’s music department and the Basilica of St. Paul in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Gisele Becker, an adjunct music faculty member and the director of the choral music program, called Fritz the “perfect colleague.”
“Always willing to help, whether it be providing an understanding and sympathetic ear, flashing his ever-present, yet genuine smile or sharing his ability to seem absolutely unflappable,” Becker said in an email. “Appreciate all he did for me and will carry that memory always.”
Fritz earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University, and also pursued master’s and doctoral degrees in education at George Mason University, according to his faculty page. He was also the state chair for the National Band Association and a member of groups like the Conductor’s Guild and the World Association of Symphonic Bands.
Pri Koti, a sophomore and a member of the symphonic band and wind ensemble that Fritz directed, said band members cherished his initiation for them to the band when he would take “newbies” to the Kennedy Center and out for cookies at Captain Cookie. She said he was “unlike any director I’ve ever known.”
“You could tell he cared about the music and what it sounded like, but he also really cared about the students themselves,” Koti said.
She added that Fritz started every rehearsal with a funny story, and she cannot remember a rehearsal when band members did not “laugh out loud physically.”
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Benno Fritz was an assistant professor of music. He was an associate professor of music. We regret this error.