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Obituary Stories

Music teacher from Ligonier encouraged kids, students

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

As a music teacher, Gilda Downs had a flair for the theatrical.

Choral shows she directed for Hempfield Area School District featured props and stunts of her own design, bringing new life to classic tunes.

“Everything she did had a flair,” said her son, Scott Downs.

Gilda R. Downs of Ligonier died Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in the Bethlen Home. She was 89.

She was born July 30, 1928, in Greensburg to the late Irwin and Rachel Trout Kamerer.

She taught music at Hempfield Area schools for more than 35 years.

“She was very fun-loving. She loved music. She loved teaching,” said her daughter, Deborah Lynch.

She met fellow teacher William Downs, and the couple fell in love. Before long, they eloped — on Valentine's Day. They celebrated their 65th anniversary this month.

As a teacher and a mom, she encouraged children to follow their passions.

“You could do and be anything you want. She was very optimistic in that regard,” said her son, Terry Downs.

Mrs. Downs taught her children to be independent, assertive and open-minded.

“She gave us lots of freedom,” her daughter said. “She wanted us to be able to speak for ourselves.”

No matter what happened, she always kept a sunny outlook on life.

“I don't think I ever heard a single negative thing from her,” Scott Downs said.

She loved taking in stray animals, and once rescued a baby skunk she found stranded in the wild.

Mrs. Downs taught “Christian Adventure” at Heritage United Methodist Church. She played piano for the Hollow Tree Players theater group and local institutions such as the Barnes Place, Bethlen Home and Ligonier Gardens.

After her retirement, she spent much of her time with her family and always made sure to keep her freezer stocked with rainbow ice cream, her grandchildren's favorite.

“Family was everything,” Scott Downs said.

She is survived by her husband, William C. Downs; four children, Deborah Lynch of Baltimore, Md.; William S. Downs of Tallahassee, Fla.; Scott Downs of New Stanton; and Terry Downs of Pittsburgh; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

A service to celebrate her life was held Friday in Heritage United Methodist Church, Ligonier, followed by interment in Ligonier Valley Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Heritage United Methodist Church.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or

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