Coping with Grief
We would like to offer our sincere support to anyone coping with grief. Enter your email below for our complimentary daily grief messages. Messages run for up to one year and you can stop at any time. Your email will not be used for any other purpose.
Ernest Oliver Hebson, Jr., of Fort Walton Beach, FL, passed away peacefully on September 13, 2023, at the age of 84.
He was born on March 31, 1939, in Sylacauga, Alabama to Ernest Sr. and Dura McClure Hebson. As a young boy, he discovered his love for music when he was gifted a harmonica by his grandfather. Inspired, he went on to teach himself how to play the piano by ear eventually learning to play the trumpet. Ernest’s love for music shaped his life. Upon graduation from Sylacauga High School, he attended the University of Alabama where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Music Education. On August 28, 1960, he married the love of his life, Anne Reed. Following graduation, he and Anne moved to Gordo, Alabama where he directed grades 4th-12th in the Gordo Band.
After eight years teaching in Gordo, Ernest was presented with the opportunity to interview in Fort Walton Beach for the Band Director position at the new high school that had yet to be built. Ernest and Anne were very happy in Gordo and had no plans of leaving but accepted the interview. What was intended to be a short trip to the beach soon became a job offer with the opportunity for Ernest to build a band program from the ground up. He accepted the offer and started the Fort Walton Beach High School “Pride of the Miracle Strip” Viking band in 1969. The band became a part of his family as his family became a part of the band. Anne worked beside him as the director of the All-American Dolls dance team that accompanied the band, both their sons later played trumpet in the band, and a granddaughter currently plays flute in the Viking Band.
Ernest spent the next 30 years building a program rooted in tradition through the motto, “excellence without exception”. As any former student of his can attest, Ernest expected each student to give their best without exception. Under Ernest’s leadership, the Viking Band set the tradition of excellence with countless awards and accolades. The Symphonic Band attended the Florida Bandmasters Association District and State Concert Festivals annually and received the Otto J. Kraushaar Award 24 times in 30 years receiving straight Superior ratings at both district and state festivals within the same year. The band is listed on the National Register of Historic Bands sponsored by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation. The Viking Band appeared on national television 16 times including all major bowl parades, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (twice), the Hollywood Christmas Parade, and as representatives of Alabama, Georgia and Florida at the 1981 Ronald Regan Presidential Inaugural Parade. The band enjoyed annual trips to unique locations including Canada, Mexico, and New York City where they played at Carnegie Hall. The trophy lined walls of the FWBHS band room are a testament to the program he created and the legacy he leaves behind.
While Ernest was never one to seek the spotlight for himself, his work was recognized on many occasions. He received the Legion of Merit Award from the John Phillip Sousa Foundation in 1999. He was awarded the National Bandmasters Citation of Excellence twice and was the Florida Phi Beta Mu Director of the Year. His professional affiliations include lifetime membership in the Florida Bandmasters Association, the Music Educators National Conference, the Florida Music Educators' Association, Phi Beta Mu, and the prestigious American Bandmasters Association. In 2004, he was inducted into the Florida Bandmasters Association Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Ernest passed the baton and the keys to the band program to his longtime assistant and dear friend, Randy Folsom. He continued to enjoy the Viking Band as a proud spectator over the years. The school honored him in 2022 with induction into the Fort Walton Beach High School Hall of Fame. He remained involved in music education by adjudicating marching and concert festivals and assessments around the country and by mentoring band directors in his area. He enjoyed retirement spending time at his river house with his family and his dogs and watching his beloved Alabama football team every Saturday in the Fall. He was a skilled craftsman and enjoyed spending time in his woodshop creating music boxes, bowls, and other cherished pieces for family and friends. Ernest will be greatly missed by the many lives he touched. Whether you knew him as Ernest, Mr. Hebson, Dad, or Grandaddy, have comfort that you touched his life too. We are all so fortunate that he genuinely lived his teachings in every aspect of his life. He was a constant source of support and love in our lives, without exception. His family is thankful for the outreach and love we have already received.
Ernest is survived by Anne, his wife of 63 years; his sons Trey (Roxanna) and Reed (Amy); his grandchildren, Elena, Grace, Eliza, Katherine, Joshua, and Jeremy; his sister, Jan Elliott (Tom); his brother-in-law, Lee Reed (Clela); his sisters-in-law, Rosalind Rust and C Roebuck Reed; many nieces, nephews, and extended family. He is preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Ronald; and his grandson, Andrew.
Memorial services will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2023, at 11:00 AM at Emerald Coast Funeral Home. The family will receive guests one hour prior to the service.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Fort Walton Beach High School Viking Band.
Donations can be sent to:
Fort Walton Beach High School
C/O Viking Band/Sandra Oldenburg
400 Hollywood Blvd SW
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
*Checks can be written to FWBHS Band with a note “In honor of Ernest Hebson” in memo line.