40 days ago, I got a call from my mother telling me that Mr. Kromer had been in a motorcycle accident. Mr. Kromer had been not only the father of one of best friends, but also my English and Spanish teacher, my soccer coach, my supporter, and, in many ways, my mentor. The injuries were severe and things weren't looking good.
I contacted his daughter, my friend Rosie, to let her know I was thinking of her and that if she needed anything at all, to let me know. I was hoping that he'd pull through. He was a strong man, after all. A man that wouldn't give up easily.
Today, I got the news that he passed away in his sleep this afternoon. Both his daughters were there and were able to tell the many members of our community who had been saying the same prayers that he had gone. And I started to cry.
When I was in third grade, or around there, I remember spending a lot of days at the Kromer's house one summer. It was more than just having time to play with Rosie and Isabel, though at the time I didn't realize it. That summer, Mr. Kromer taught me a little Spanish. He introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia. He helped show me that learning never stopped. He was giving me, even though I didn't realize it for a long time, much needed encouragement to learn on my own when the school system wasn't doing it for me.
It was around that time he also started teaching my class Spanish. It wasn't anything structured, and I think it may have been a trial to see if it would work in our school. But off and on, until I hit middle school, I learned bits and pieces of Spanish, both in the classroom and in his home while visiting Rosie.
He was my English teacher in middle school, as well as my more formal Spanish teacher. In English, he didn't throw the classics at us for reading. He introduced us to other books that would really resonate at our age. My favorite, which is still one of my favorites, was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. And after reading the book, he let us watch the movie. He did what he could to make our class one that we wanted to learn in rather than just one that we had to go to.
Also when I was in middle school, he coached my intramural soccer team. I was a horrible player - not athletic in the least, not fast on the field, not quick enough or brave enough to throw my body after a ball in the goal. But I played just about every game. Because it wasn't about just putting in the best players. Everyone got a chance to try, and everyone got a chance to contribute. I still remember the "good job" and the grin he gave me after I managed to kick the ball with more force than I'd ever used before, propelling it all the way down the field to one of my teammates. It was the first time, I think, I'd ever actually successfully kicked the ball in the game. But I didn't feel like he was any more proud of me that day than on the days when I struggled to keep the other team from making a goal by being a defender.
When I was in 7th grade, Rosie was going to take 9th grade math the following year. Mr. Kromer suggested I talk to the high school math teacher about getting into the class myself. He told me that he knew I would be able to do the work. Rosie went with me to talk to Ms. Connolly, then to talk to my junior high math teacher, so I could get into the class. If it hadn't been for him, I never would have made that step.
At the end of 8th grade, Rosie left Downsville to go to a private school about 2 and a half hours away. She'd been my best friend and, for all that I knew she'd get a better education there, I also knew I was going to miss her. Mr. Kromer encouraged me to apply to the school. He drove me there to see Rosie and to meet with the head of admissions, to take my tests and to do my best to get into the school. And when I found out that I'd been accepted but couldn't get the amount of scholarship that I'd needed to attend, he told me how sorry he was that I couldn't go. And he meant it, because he knew how badly I wanted to be at that school, learning more than I could have in Downsville and being able to hang out with Rosie more.
At the end of 9th grade, I moved to Florida to live with my Dad. Mr. Kromer made sure to tell me how much he'd enjoyed teaching me, how much he hoped that I'd do well there. He told me I'd be missed. And he told me to keep in touch.
Since I've become an adult, I don't think I'd ever seen him again. I didn't get to Downsville as much as I would have liked to, and when I did most of the time was spent with my mom and my sister. And he didn't get to the areas of the country I was living in. But I know he still thought about me, because my mom would tell me how she'd run into him in town and how he'd ask about me, always wondering how I was doing. And when we friended each other on Facebook about 3 years ago, he would comment on my status updates, letting me know that he was still thinking about me.
Today, there is a part of me that wishes I'd made more of an effort to tell him while he still walked this earth what an important influence he was in my life. But there's another part of me, the part that he did influence, that knows he knew and was grateful that he was a part of my life.
Rest in peace, Mr. Kromer. You have been loved by many, and inspired more than I think even you realized. Thank you for what you have given to me and to our small community. You will be missed.