Saturday, November 9, 2013

His Legacy Meant So Much To Me

This post has been one that I have been waiting a long time to do.  It is about someone that had a larger impact on me than many, if any, even in my hometown, know about.  This post is about my former high school principal, Dan Kieler, that passed away a few months ago.  I have been carrying Mr. Kieler's funeral program in my school bag for a couple of months now, knowing that I wanted to share my story about him.  Most importantly, I didn't want to forget what he meant to me.

You see, he wasn't just my principal in junior high and high school.  He was also the dad of one of my best friends as I grew up.  Mr. Kieler lived just a few houses away from me in our little town of West Point, Iowa.  Over the years, I was able to have unique interactions with Mr. Kieler that many don't usually have with their principal.  I was able to see his personal side while also seeing how he worked with students, staff, and the community.  I was able to enjoy first hand his passion for fishing, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the Green Bay Packers, and everything West Point Marquette Warriors.  He treated me like I was one of his own.  He had high expectations of me and I tried to do everything not to disappoint.

Mr. Kieler was someone that was down to earth and never took himself too seriously.  He loved to have a good time, crack a few jokes, and always made everyone around him feel special.  He was the same man at home as he was at school.  He was as solid a guy as you would ever want to know and be around.  I will be forever grateful to him and how he impacted our small town community.  He has impacted so many young men and women over the years to help them believe in themselves and become people they didn't know they could be.  He honestly cared for each and everyone of us.  He built and left a legacy that everyone that interacted with him will remember forever.  The best part of his legacy for our school and community is that he would just say he was doing what every person should be doing.  Care for kids, have high expectations, have a great attitude, and do things the right way.   He would say humbly that this was nothing special.  We would all say it was special.

Here are three examples that were left on Mr. Kieler's online obituary of what he meant to people of four different decades as a principal :

"Dan was my history teacher at Marquette when he was only in his mid-20s. He was one of the most personable individuals I had met. I wondered at the time how a city kid would get along in a small town. As it turns out, he got along just fine! Thanks, Dan, for your devotion to Marquette, Holy Trinity, West Point, and the surrounding community."

"When I learned of Mr. Kieler's passing, I thought to myself, he might have been the best teacher I have ever had in my life. Shortly after reflecting upon the positive influence Mr. Kieler had on my life, the phone rang, it was my sister Sylvia, and before I had a chance to say anything, she said "I think Dan (he was Dan to my sister, always Mr. Kieler to me) was the best teacher I ever had." He was truly one of the Best! Mr. Kieler would always address his students in his class by calling them Mr. XXXX or Ms. XXXX versus by their first name, and if you did something good, which in my case wasn't very often, he would say "you're a good man Mr. XXXX." Mr. Kieler had a lot of positive traits about him, which added up to make him the legend he is and will always be. I find myself addressing my kids' friends by Mr. or Ms., and often times will say "Mr. XXXX, you're a good man," which is Mr. Kieler's legacy being carried on in a small way. The last time I saw Mr. Kieler was about two years ago, and I remember him telling me, since I had reached the age of 50, I could start calling him Dan versus Mr. Kieler. I told him he would always be Mr. Kieler to me, and in his classic way, he said "OK Mr. XXXX." Mr.Kieler has touched a lot of lives and has made the world a better place."

"I remember seeing Dan in the halls with a smile on his face always asking how I was or checking in on the sports reports. He was great to have in class as a teacher and just an all-around great guy."

I felt many of these same things over the years.  He was the first teacher/principal that I specifically noticed that he was always about the KIDS FIRST.  He wanted to know me and he wanted to know every kid that walked the halls at our school.  In the mornings, we would hang out with our friends in the gym before class started.  He would make sure to come see how we were doing and shoot the breeze with us.  He would be seen in the halls talking to kids.  He was in classrooms enjoying students while they were learning as both a principal and a teacher.  He was about relationships with kids.  As much as he was about kids, he still obviously created great relationships with staff and community to be as successful as he was over many decades at Marquette.  It was just so clear though, that he was in this business for kids and most importantly he was never apologetic about his way of thinking.

Mr. Kieler impacted me in many ways while in high school.  He had high expectations of me as a student, athlete, and leader within the building.  He shared with me that he wanted to be able to count on me to do the right thing in the classroom, on the field/court, and in the way I influenced other students around me.  He would often pull me into his office before school (my locker was right outside his office door) or in between classes to have these kind of conversations.  Some of the conversations were quick check-ins and others we would be quick check-ins that would turn into sports conversations about the Packers, Fighting Irish, or any other thing that may be on his mind.  I loved these conversations and I am sure over decades, I wasn't the only one who was able to enjoy these "life" conversations with Mr. Kieler.

He also came up big for me as I entered my junior year of college.  I just had a major life changing experience when I was a sophomore in college.  I became a father at age 20 with many unknowns in my life.  I had a newborn and a new wife.  What did I know about succeeding in this new situation?  I stopped playing college basketball because I felt I needed to work every minute that I wasn't in class so that I could start providing for my new family.  This life changing experience definitely focused me and forced me to mature really fast.  I felt I still needed something in my life to give me greater direction for a career while my friends were having a great time living the so called college life.  I loved basketball and I wanted to coach in the worst way since I decided I wasn't going to play anymore.  Who do I call?  I called Mr. Kieler at my old high school and I told him of my situation.  I asked him if he had any basketball coaching positions available for the upcoming school year.  I told him I would do whatever I needed to do be back at my alma mater to coach basketball.  He surprisingly told me that he did have an opening.  The coaching position: JV girls basketball.  JV  I told him I was interested.  I ended up getting the position.  I coached like crazy.  I lived every play like I was playing on the court.   I was crazy at times.  Mr. Kieler was my rock.  I knew I could count on him for anything. I called him at work often.  I stopped in his office for his advice not just about x's and o's but how to understand and relate to kids and parents.  It was just like the days of our conversations when I was in high school.  I loved every minute of it.  I couldn't get enough of our conversations.  I often stayed longer than I should have because I know he had things to do.  Mr. Kieler though, made me feel like my conversation was the most important thing in the world to him at that given time.  This same thing happened daily or weekly for the following two years as he chose me to be the varsity boys basketball coach the next year.  His support gave me direction in time of great uncertainty.  My young family was able to see me play out another part of a passion of mine in coaching, but more importantly it gave us hope that we were going to make it through the early struggles of having a family so young.  I later got my first teaching job at Marquette too after I graduated from college.  This is a result of Mr. Kieler giving me a chance and believing that I was capable of doing a quality job and that I was going to be good for kids.

The awesome part about my story about Mr. Kieler is that I know that there many more stories in which he has touched lives in ways just like mine.  He left a legacy for students, teachers, and a community that will be able to be retold to their own kids for years to come.

Mr. Kieler has also influenced the way I would like to work within the educational field, and specifically as a principal.  I have tried to operate within my work that it is always about the kids and that it is our choice everyday to bring a positive attitude to our work.  If we do these things, positive results will follow.

The only regret I have, is that I didn't stay connected with Mr. Kieler as much as I should have after moving on from teaching and coaching at Marquette.  I also didn't get a chance to go have another conversation with him when he was in the hospital.  When I heard he was ill, I think I always thought he was going to make it through the battle with his health.  It reminds me to never think I am too busy for the people that have been important to us in our lives.  You never know when those people may not have the opportunity to impact you again or to finally thank them for what they have done for you in your life.  I wish he could know now how thankful I am for everything he has done for me ever since I was a very young boy in his neighborhood all the way to helping shape who I am as an adult today.

Mr. Kieler, your legacy will live on forever in my heart and the hearts of everyone who came in contact with you. You have meant so much to me and to others.  I hope to someday be half the man you were.  Thank you.


  1. Thank you for sharing this post. We must always remember what we do does matter, the time we take does matter, the life we model does matter...Your tribute to Mr. Kieler is proof of that.

    1. I am glad I could share it with you and others. He taught me and many others a ton over the years that we won't ever be able to repay him back for. Our job is to fill other's buckets in the way he did for the students, teachers, and community over the many years. This would make him say, "You're a good man, XXXX".

  2. Aaron:
    "Because in my eternal verse you will live forever." - Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
    As a literature buff, my mind immediately connected your post to this line from Shakespeare. Your words will forever remind people of his legacy; an everlasting tribute to one so great!
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful role model with us. Your personal connections, "Your Story," paints a clearer picture in the minds of all who read your words but did not know Mr. Kieler personally. It is evident that your experiences and conversations with Mr. Kieler have helped shape you into the Ed Leader that you are today! You describe his attributes as " Care for kids, have high expectations, have a great attitude, and do things the right way" and illustrate the power of positive relationships between educators and students. YOU are one of his living legacies. Your rapport with students and staff, Your infectious positive attitude, and Your love of athletics/coaching are public displays of his influence on your life!
    Time and reflection has provided a voice for your feelings. Keeping his funeral program in your bag for months was a constant reminder of the story you had to share that was not formulated yet. Finally, these lines you have written are eternal; a lasting tribute.
    - Shaelynn