180207_OBITS

John Bowen

EDGERTON

Both men taught many years in the Edgerton School District.

Both had the ability to connect with kids and help them realize their full potential, even if they were considered outcasts.

Both recently died days apart at age 72. Their deaths have left many former students reflecting on their collective impact on Edgerton education.

John Bowen, who died Feb. 1, was a former seventh-grade English teacher at the middle school. He could interact with kids without being overly formal, allowing him to relate to students on their level, former student Tyson Trunkhill said.

Ron Walter died a few days before that, on Jan. 29. He worked as an earth science teacher at the high school and later led the district’s alternative program.

“The one thing that stands out about both Mr. Bowen and Mr. Walter is that they were the teachers who appreciated the misfits,” wrote former student Krista Olson-Lehman in an email to The Gazette.

Many former students posted condolences on the men’s obituary pages on local funeral home websites. The stories they told exemplified the men’s compassionate teaching styles.

Kids who attended Walter’s alternative program often had academic or learning issues. Jessie Edwardson Benash credited Walter with helping her graduate after a motorcycle accident transformed her outlook on school.

Benash’s accident ended her involvement in cheerleading and left her angry and frustrated. Her grades slipped, and she didn’t want to go to classes—until Walter called her and offered to drive her to school.

It helped her get back on track for graduation. She eventually completed her bachelor’s degree with honors and then earned her master’s, she said.

“He never made me feel bad for where I was at. He accepted me for where I was,” Benash said. “He motivated and pushed me without making me feel bad about myself.

“He knew how much potential we all had. We just had to find it.”

Timothy Roenneburg, a former student of Bowen’s, said Bowen could relate to farm kids and those bound for “white-collar careers.” He never treated people differently based on their backgrounds, Roenneburg wrote in a Facebook message.

Trunkhill echoed that, calling Bowen a humble and relatable person who was good at “boosting the underdog.”

Trunkhill continued his friendship with Bowen for years. They shared an interest in military history, cars and motorcycles, he said.

They built a motorcycle together more than 20 years ago.

“At the time, I thought he was kind of lonely. But I think what it turned out to be is he liked talking to people,” Trunkhill said of Bowen. “We used to talk on the phone nearly every day. He just liked catching up with people and seeing what they were doing.”

In her email to The Gazette, Olson-Lehman said Bowen had a quirky sense of humor. He made noises or sang songs without warning to snap the classroom back to attention.

Benash has shared Walter’s story dozens of times while on the motivational speaking circuit. She talks about her accident and its effect on the rest of her life, and how her beloved former teacher never gave up on her.

She hopes other teachers incorporate his message into their own lessons.

Mary Walter, Ron’s widow, said he let students call him “Wally” as long as it was the more formal “Mr. Wally.” Benash said he never enforced his requirement for formality.

Mary said her husband always referred to every student as his favorite. She hoped students considered him their favorite teacher because he loved kids and cared about education.

She said she has seen an outpouring of support from her husband’s students. Some sent flower arrangements to his funeral, and others shared messages on Facebook.

“I think it showed he was a very compassionate person. I don’t know how many of them said he turned their life around, or they wouldn’t be where they are today because of him,” Mary said. “I’m proud and happy ... that he was able to help these kids be productive in the community.”

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