Physical education teacher Todd Engle was always “so big and strong, you’d think he could get through anything,” said his former student, Emma Kelley.
Diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, he’s put that perception to the test. Through relapses time and again, Engle’s fought for life with an army of Comets cheering him on.
He returned to teaching this fall after a yearlong absence, but the cancer has returned. Engle has granted an extended leave after his fifth diagnosis.
Student council members from Steele High hope to lift his spirits. They’re planning a letter-writing campaign to fill Engle’s home.
We sat down with senior Rhyan Opel, Kelley (a junior), sophomore Makayla Schreiber, freshman Melina Martinez, and senior Nick Tipper to talk about their plans. All were former Engle students and have fond memories.
“We want to tell him how our lives have progressed so he can feel like he still has a connection with us,” said Opel, who serves as student council secretary. As a middle school student, she remembers feeling left out, especially when it came to sports — but Engle took an interest in her and encouraged her at every turn, she said.
“Even if you weren’t the best at gym, he was very positive to everyone and was a great role model,” said Schreiber.
“It didn’t matter if you were in his class. He was close to you,” chipped in Martinez, who remembers crying when she heard about Engle’s initial diagnosis.
Martinez talked with him recently and called him the most influential teacher she’s ever had. “He was my go-to person when I needed something done or when I just needed someone to talk to. He always helped out,” she said.
With the exception of a few newer students, pretty much everybody at Steele has positive memories of Engle, the student council members said.
They are asking fellow students, alumni, teachers, and even community members to craft handwritten letters for “Bubba,” as he’s nicknamed. If everything goes as planned, student council could gather 1,500 messages.
Why letters instead of typing a quick email? Writing by hand is more genuine, the students said, and their onetime teacher will know it meant much more to sit down and take the time to put pen to paper.
You can send your letters care of student council advisor Russ Marty to Amherst Steele High School, 450 Washington St., Amherst, OH 44001.
What Engle wants right now is a personal connection with each of the people who have grown up in Amherst’s schools, Opel said. Letters can share memories from Nord, where you’re going to college, or simple how your life is going these days through experiences big and small.
“We want to make sure he knows what kind of an impact he’s had on everyone’s lives,” said Tipper, who serves as vice president of student council.
The project is intended to last through February and March.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.