COUNCIL BLUFFS — Gary Fiscus died early Friday at his Council Bluffs home after a 12-year battle with cancer. He was 63.
“Gary was one of the most giving individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” said Lyle Ditmars, fellow musician and friend.
Fiscus was a vocal music teacher at Lewis Central High School for 31 years before declining health forced him to retire in 2005. He was also a part-time instructor at Iowa Western Community College for several years before stepping down in May.
He once estimated that he had taught 4,000 to 5,000 students during his career.
Ditmars sang in the choir under Fiscus at the former Grace Presbyterian Church, and sang with him in the Southwest Iowa Men’s Chorus and in the Men of Grace quartet, which Fiscus accompanied on the piano.
“Gary was a tremendous musician,” Ditmars said. “He had an ear that was incredible.”
Fiscus spent a lot of time with his students working on pieces for contests and auditions, said Ditmars, whose oldest son, Drew, sang in the Lewis Central choir.
Fiscus’ outstanding teaching ability showed in the number of students he sent to All State Chorus every year, said Vaughn Lippoldt, former chairman of the music department at Iowa Western.
“He always had more students who went to state chorus than all the others combined,” he said.
Fiscus also held music clinics and Fellowship of Christian Athletes seminars and judged music contests in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and South Dakota, said his wife, Kathy. He also was director of music and organist at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha.
Fiscus was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2000. He had surgery Oct. 31, 2000, then chemotherapy followed by hormonal therapy. His cancer eventually went into remission but came back in July 2007.
Fiscus used his illness as an opportunity to share with cancer patients and their spouses.
“He felt in some ways cancer was a blessing, because he could connect with a whole other group of people that he normally wouldn’t — specifically, cancer patients, and especially women — because he had breast cancer,” Kathy Fiscus said.
His many honors included the Governor’s Recognition of Teaching Excellence, the Teacher Tenure Award of the Iowa High School Music Association and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Iowa Choral Directors Association.
He was named Lewis Central Educator of the Year twice, Sertoma Educator of the Year and received a Spirit of Courage Award in 2006. He was an inductee in the Lewis Central Education Foundation Hall of Fame.
Fiscus donated his body to the University of Nebraska Medical Center. A celebration of his life will be held later.