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Board of Directors

Deborah Johnson - Vice President & Co-Founder

Deborah Johnson, Founder of Drew’s Gift of Music, Drew Shearin’s Legacy is serving as Vice-President of the Drew’s Gift of Music Board for the 2023 year.

Very early in life at the church she went to, she heard music played live.  Deb wanted to learn to play whatever she could. “Unfortunately, in the life I was given, my desire to feed this passion of music was not encouraged, and not something that I could obtain on my own. Although I still enjoyed the beautiful sounds that came from others, I still felt cheated from never getting to let music flow from my heart.”

As time passed, she started seeing the passion of music in her own children. Deb made sure she would find a way to get them what they needed to let their passions grow. Drew was the one who took his gift to new levels every day as he

began to compose music at 12 years old. His love of music grew as time went on. He proceeded to learn one instrument after another. His band director and mentor encouraged him to enter one of his compositions into a young composer competition. His talent grew as quickly as he did. In October 2011, on his way home from work, his life was cut short.  

“My life ended as I knew it. I would never hear his music fill the house again.” Darkness, as only a mother who has lost her baby, took its place. “I could only pray that God would give me a spark of faith.” God gave her that spark of hope and helped her find the strength to keep her son's name and his music alive. She became the caretaker of his music and his legacy. “I wasn't able to teach others how to play music, but I can make sure they have a chance.” 

Deb and her husband Bryan, live in Plymouth Indiana. Together, they raised a blended family of 5. Drew was the youngest. They have 6 grandchildren who will all keep their uncle’s story alive in them.

Kailee Speiss - Co-Founder & Board Member

Kailee Speiss is one of the board members for the 2023 year. She is a co-founder of Drew's Gift of Music when it began in 2012 after the passing of her brother, Drew.

Although she played the clarinet and pit percussion during her early school years, she actually spent more time exploring the fine arts and working on set designs for Knox High School marching band and theatre departments before ultimately following a career in the visual arts and graphic design.

         Kailee sees her passion for music more as a labor of love, both in tender memory of her little brother and in happiness of helping the youth explore their own paths in the musical arts. She married Robert Speiss in the spring of 2019 and together they have a daughter named Francine and a houseful of pets.

Zackery Shearin - Director of Outreach and Development At Large

Zack Shearin is a co-founder of Drew’s Gift of Music and a board member at large for the 2023 year. He shares a similar passion for music and performance as his youngest brother, Drew, having played in various school music organizations throughout his school career, and shared a close bond with Drew over music.

Zack focused on the pursuit of science as an adult, earning degrees in Microbiology and Ecology and Evolutionary biology. Though he is not currently active in any music communities, he has worked consistently with Drew’s Gift since its inception to maintain his connection to what he and Drew loved so much.

Zack currently lives in Poland working as an editor of scientific manuscripts, a writer of science articles, and a science educator.

Brittany Owens - President 

Brittany Owens is currently President of the Drew’s Gift of Music Board for the 2023 year. She is employed as an RN in Knox, IN. Her music interest began at an early age singing along to the radio. She got in trouble on several occasions in elementary school for singing during class. In middle school, she had to decide between doing band or choir. Since she wanted to broaden her talents, she chose band. She always wanted to play trumpet after watching the older kids in the local parades in Knox. When it came to trying out instruments at the end of 5th grade, she couldn’t make a sound on the trumpet. Her next thought was, “well, my cousin played the flute in band, let’s try that.” Instantly, she got rated a 5 out of 5 on the trial and was approved for it.

Then came the next problem, how to afford the instrument. There were no organizations like Drew’s Gift of Music available back in 2004 and if it wasn’t for her great aunt and uncle assisting in making monthly payments for the

instrument and paying the yearly band fees in high school, she would not have had an opportunity to pursue playing in band.

Under the direction of David Elliott (also on the board) she was able to expand her instrument usage to playing piccolo. She then went on to play both flute and piccolo in her college Flute Ensemble at IU South Bend.

Brittany also played in the Knox Redskin Brigade with Drew and they became very close friends. They also participated in the school musicals, winter color guard, and local honor bands together. “Serving on the board for this organization is very near and dear to my heart. It reminds me every day of the impact that Drew had on everyone he met as he never knew a stranger. He aspired to continue with making music and that is exactly what we are here to do.”

Brittany has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Indiana University in South Bend. She is married to Drew’s former co-drum major, Brenden. They reside in Plymouth with their orange tabby cat named Link.

David George - Director of Finance

Dave George is one of the board members for the 2023 year. He became involved in Drew’s Gift of Music by meeting Drew’s mom (Deb) through his wife. Deb and Dave’s wife met via a shared interest in art. He was inspired by the story of Drew’s Gift and its mission to serve and provide opportunities to be involved with music to youth that may not have the opportunity otherwise. Once he got to know Deb and witness her commitment and great passion for the cause as well as the many great success stories, he knew this was a program he should get involved with.

Dave is an Indiana and Marshall County resident since 1998. He is retired after 40 years of professional business and finance experience in Michigan and Indiana. His hobbies include motorcycling and golfing.

He has been married for 44 years to his wife, Jennifer George. They have 2 adult children together. Their daughter, Sarah, is an attorney in Indianapolis. Their son, Nick, is an insurance professional in Asheville, North Carolina.

David Elliott - Operations Advisor for Northwest Indiana

David Elliott is one of the board members for the 2023 year and is our Consulting Band Director. David is currently a Band Director at Elkhart High School, the Elkhart Freshman Division, and Pierre Moran Middle School in Elkhart (IN). He has held similar positions in Edwardsburg (MI), Knox (IN), and Pendleton (IN).

His music experience began at age four with piano lessons from his mother, who quickly had him quit because he was a terrible student. As David prepared to move into 6th Grade, his dad told him, "You're playing clarinet. Your brother is getting a new clarinet and you'll use his old one." From these inauspicious roots grew a lifetime of loving music and sharing that passion with young adults.

David came to Knox in the summer of 2009, just before Drew's freshman year of high school. Drew's quick wit and charming personality endeared him to the young Assistant Band Director, and it was quickly clear that Drew was a

unique individual and a talented musician. David became close friends with Drew's family over the next few years and remained closely connected even while moving hundreds of miles away. “It is an honor to serve on the board for Drew's Gift of Music, and both humbling and inspiring to see the mission for the organization carried out through the fantastic work of Drew's family and the Board Members.”

David has a Bachelor of Music Education from Butler University and a Masters of Music Performance in Wind Conducting from the University of Louisville. He has been married to his lovely bride Erin for over a decade and they have two children- Kiersten (7) and Archer (4). Erin is an elementary music teacher in the Penn-Harris-Madison Schools (IN). They reside in Mishawaka with a dog named Cali and two tiger-striped tabby cats- Meshka and Kokoro.

Ruth Nelson - Secretary

Ruth Nelson is currently Secretary for the Drew’s Gift of Music Board for the 2023 year. She is married to Steve Nelson and together they have 4 children. She played the clarinet and her husband played the trumpet. Their daughter played the violin, and their sons favorite instruments are their voices. “Music has always played an important role in our lives.”

She became part of the board at Drew’s Gift because she finds this organization valuable to the students and families who receive the opportunity to play. Deb also believed her administrative experience would be beneficial. “I am grateful to be here and watch what the future holds as Drew’s Gift instruments enrich the lives of more and more students.”

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