Todd Engle is at rest and Amherst is awash with grief.
Bubba, as he was popularly known, taught health and physical education at Nord Middle School. He died Wednesday evening at his home with family by his side.
Orange ribbons dotted the city’s downtown area and school buildings, paying tribute to a man who had fought battle after battle with leukemia since 2013.
In December, doctors confirmed he had relapsed. More recently it became clear this time the cancer would end his life.
The news of Engle’s passing shook staff at Nord. “He made everybody feel like they’re important, that they matter. He was open to talk to everybody,” said principal Jill Jiovanazzo.
A crisis team set up camp in the school library to help students and teachers who needed to talk through their grief.
Nord children barely got a chance to befriend Engle before he stepped away from work in December. For teachers, it was a different story — as they tried to deal with the loss of a coworker, PTO members showed up with food and to help out around the school, Jiovanazzo said.
Engle’s wife, Corrie, is dean of students at Nord. The morning after her husband passed, she went to Nord early to see staffers and let them know she was making funeral arrangements.
Corrie said Todd died with a smile and that in his last moments, he was at peace.
“She hugged kids and she looked at their cards, and she told us about Todd and what their plans were. People were coming in crying and she was strong,” Jiovanazzo said.
Engle, 35, was originally hired in 2007 to split time teaching at Shupe and Harris elementary schools. He also served as a track and field coach at Amherst Junior High and an assistant football coach for the varsity Comets.
District superintendent Steven Sayers said he had a tremendous impact on everyone he met over the course of 11 years.
“He was such a caring person and that came across in the way that he interacted with students, other staff members, with parents. I think that caring attitude is what allowed him to have such a positive impact on so many people, and certainly we’re going to miss that,” he said.
“It’s a sad day in Amherst… Our thoughts and prayers are with Todd’s wife, Corrie, and the entire Engle family. This is obviously a tough, tough time.”
In February, before it was known the cancer was terminal, student council officers at Steele High School launched a letter-writing campaign for Engle.
Advisor Russ Marty said hundreds answered the call to reconnect with their former teacher. Corrie told him that Todd read every letter he received and was moved by what he learned about their lives and accomplishments.
Engle was known as a teacher who invested deeply in every one of his students. For example, freshman Melina Martinez told us he was the single most influential teacher she 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.
On Thursday morning, the Steele News Live class aired a special tribute to Engle on televisions inside the high school. It faded to black, ending early so that teachers had time to talk with students about their loss.
The creative learning center at Steele was reserved all day for people who wanted to talk to a counselor or express their grief with peers.
Engle’s passing was not unexpected. But it took a toll, and the flow in and out of the CLC was steady, said Marty.
“It’s one of those things you know is coming, but it doesn’t make the end result any easier. We lost a friend, a colleague,” he said.
He was having a hard time processing the loss too. Marty and Engle played co-ed softball together several years ago and remembered how much fun they had.
“I always hated when I’d have to bat after him, because I’d have to run. He would crush the ball and lap me if I didn’t hustle,” Marty said. “He was the beast of our team. You knew if he was getting up there, he was going to crush it.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.