Evansville sixth-grade social studies teacher Butch Beedle is a "fire soul" in Evansville, Mayor Sandy Decker said.
"He has so much enthusiasm and just puts together the right mix of things for our Energy Fair," she said. "He keeps it exciting. Kids love it."
Helping develop the Earth Day Energy Fair, which draws 2,000 people and will mark its 10th year this spring, is one of many environmental-related projects for Beedle. His extra efforts start in the classroom, however, with hands-on activities related to the rainforest, and he takes high school students on a bi-annual, two-week trip to Panama.
Beedle is in his 34th year of teaching at J.C. McKenna Middle School, where he started at age 21.
"One of the things I learned early is you've got to act on information. You can't just tell kids about something and then leave them. You've got to have an outlet for their passion or interest or concern," he said.
"So that's what's always kind of happened. The kids have gotten interested in something, and then they've pushed me to keep going with something."
The framed deed for the first acre of rainforest that his class bought in 1988 sits on top of a bookshelf in his classroom. His classes own 50 to 60 acres of rainforest in Central America and South America.
An acre costs between $35 and $140, and the first acre was bought through the San Francisco Zoo. Each purchase is different, and Beedle either knows the people who buy the land or has been there himself.
Students are not allowed to do fundraisers; instead, the class sets a goal, such as $1 per student.
"If each person helps a little, that little will add up to a lot. That is how we look at this," he said. "I want the contribution to come out of their own pocket so they have a vested interest in the solution."
The kids went crazy over learning about the rainforest, which led to Beedle in 1992 to start a student newspaper, "Tropical Tribune." Students researched articles that were published in a paper that went to 2,000 subscribers in 19 countries.
The project won a national prize for interdisciplinary teaching in 1996 but eventually fizzled when the Internet took over. Now Beedle takes high school groups to Panama to stay in an Indian village and the rainforest every other year.
"It's one thing to start some of these neat things, but to keep them going, keep them fresh…" Retired Principal Vince Maloney said.
Maloney hired Beedle at McKenna and jokes he "couldn't get him out of here."
No one was more responsible than Beedle for the school's national team teaching of the year award in 1996, Maloney said.
"He made things happen," Maloney said, noting how other teachers saw Beedle's creativity and leadership and didn't want to be left behind. "He got teams to buy in."
Sixth-grade language arts teacher Jill Schultz and her colleagues tease Beedle that he's their team leader.
"He always comes with good ideas" to the daily sixth-grade team meeting, she said. "After so many thousands of years of teaching, he's always willing to try new things."
Kids love his class, and Beedle is a great team player, she said.
"I love doing this," he said. "It's like I'm blessed to be able to do this. It's not a job. I feel like I'm just lucky that I can do these things, and I can interact with kids … people trust me to do things with their kids. I just feel so lucky that that's been able to develop.
"I don't ever come to school thinking it's going to be a bad day. Every day I come here, it's fun for me."