Success breeds success – Favorite teacher Mike Calmes remembered

Emily Calmes, Mike Calmes, Micheal Calmes memorial, Mike Calmes story

 

Emily Calmes (rear) smiles as she listens to her dad’s colleagues share memories of him at the Calmes’ family dining table July 16. A memorial for beloved Glenrock elementary school teacher Mike Calmes is set for Friday at noon in the Glenrock High School gymnasium. His photograph is shown in the foreground. (Cinthia Stimson photo/The Glenrock Independent)

By: 
Cinthia Stimson, cinthia@glenrockind.com

The greeting card Susan Calmes held in her hands on Dec. 22 was an anniversary card. It was the last card she would ever receive from her husband, beloved Glenrock teacher of 38 years, Micheal “Mike” Thomas Calmes.

He’d bought it months earlier, in preparation for the time he’d be unable to leave the house due to his illness. Mike was that way, though. He was a planner.

 Mike passed away the next day on Dec. 23 at home, his family at his bedside. He led an enriching life dedicated wholeheartedly to educating every child who walked into the sanctuary of his classroom with gusto.

 

TIES THAT BIND

Five women gathered around the family dining room table last week in the Calmes’ home. Mike’s daughter, Emily Calmes; longtime family friend and colleague Arlene Jackson; Amy Guenther, school counselor and family friend; Sunny Fleck, one of Mike’s fourth grade students who is now a kindergarten teacher; and his wife, Susan.

It was a time for sharing memories and shedding copious amounts of tears, but even greater was the camaraderie and wholehearted, unabashed laughter shared amongst the women tied together in life by their common connection to Mike.

He began his teaching career in 1973 in Glenrock. He worked wonders with all of his students, but in particular with kids who perhaps didn’t want to be in school or were facing challenges learning. He inspired his students in numerous ways, keeping them engaged in their daily matriculations.

“He was wonderful when it came to motivating his students. His whole career was here in Glenrock – all 38 years – he was either a teacher or principal. He always believed in our kids. One of my favorite Mike-isms, something he always said, was, ‘Success breeds success,” Susan said.

As the women in the circle took turns expressing their heartfelt memories of Mike, they were soon dabbing their eyes again as their tears escaped and rolled slowly down their smooth cheeks.

They talked of the man who made a difference in people’s lives both in and out the classroom: Mike the teacher, the master woodworker, the guy who loved camping and hiking in the Big Horns, who loved fishing and photography, and Mike – father and husband.

Emily recounted vivid memories of her dad’s love for nature and the outdoors, and, of course, education, all of which he instilled in his own children. Emily is a preschool teacher at Casper College’s Early Childhood Learning Center, and pursuing her master’s degree.

“The mountains, that’s what hits me, when I think of my dad. We were always up in the Big Horns. He taught all of my kids how to fish. It was lots of fun. We did so many family trips. The mountains were his favorite place to be. They’re my favorite place to be, too,” Emily said softly, an endearingly sweet smile beaming across her face as she spoke of her father.

Mike’s son, Kaleb Calmes, later said he’s the man he is today because of his dad.

“He taught me mathematics and critical thinking at a young age. Those skills helped me excel in my schooling and career,” Kaleb said.

 

FALLING IN LOVE

Mike had been teaching at Grant for seven years when his future wife arrived in Glenrock in 1980. He fell in love with the charming young teacher immediately, but his pursuit of his bride lasted long three years before she acknowledged she had mutual feelings for him, she admitted, laughing.

“I was teaching first grade; he was teaching down in a room by the cafeteria. Each day he’d come by my room at lunchtime and say, ‘How the heck are you today?’ Every single day. I kept wondering, ‘Who is this man?’ I was barely 22. We were seven and a half years apart. He wouldn’t stop. He didn’t know how to flirt.”

As Susan got to know Mike as a person, she became more interested in him. She also grew to greatly admire and respect his teaching methods – he just seemed to have a knack for it.

“He had a reputation regarding kids under his tutelage. Mike’s claim to fame was he could get kids to grow, kids who didn’t want to learn, anywhere from two to four years. He was so motivating. I was moving into teaching third grade and I wanted that for my kids. I started to think about these things . . . he can do woodworking, he’s a great teacher,” she said, considering all of her late husband’s abilities.

Mike once told a hospice worker he fell in love with Susan on day 1 – that was it. The moment he laid eyes on her, he was sold.

“He was an amazing husband. I’ve never doubted for a day that he loved me,” Susan said softly.

Despite the evident romance between the two, theirs wasn’t a “drop down on your knee proposal,” Susan said, laughing. When the time was right, the couple got engaged on Oct. 31, 1983 and married just shy of two months later Dec. 22 in a small, private ceremony in Glenrock.

Thirty-six years later, Mike was still springing surprises on his wife, despite his illness.

On the couple’s last anniversary, Arlene said she was in the kitchen making coffee at the Calmes’ home. During the latter part of his Mike’s days, friends were often in the home to help care for their dear friend.

“I’d already been in to check on Mike and make sure everything was good. Then I hear Susan say, ‘How? How did you do that?’ I had no clue it was their anniversary. She said ‘How did you get a card?’

“He’d bought that card six months before. He was worried he might not be able to go to a store to get a card for their wedding anniversary. He couldn’t even get out of the bed. He’d had the card in his night stand. The night before, he’d filled out the entire card. That’s the kind of man he was,” Arlene said, as she, too, wiped at the moisture filling her eyes.

It was the twinkle in his eyes, she said. She could see how much Mike treasured his wife.

“He knew he had to do it. He knew he had to make it happen. I saw his happiness and the love in his eyes, and it was his own happiness, too, because it was such a surprise to you,” she said, making eye contact with Susan as she sat at the table across from her.

Mike died the day after their 36th wedding anniversary. His family believes he hung on long enough to spoil his bride just one more time.

 

EVERY MOMENT COUNTS

Photos of Mike are scattered on the tabletop. The women take turns looking at the photos, gently, almost reverently picking them up and commenting on each one.

“I remember this one,” Amy said, as another humorous story unfolds with Mike at the center.

The ladies talk about where they were at the time, one exclaiming, “Oh, the expression on my face!” and another speculating the photo might have been taken at a school talent show.

One photo triggers giggles amongst the close-knit group, perhaps the picture of Mike and his students. The kids were made up to look like rock stars in the band KISS.

Mike was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis over 10 years ago; it’s a lung disease which occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred, and the person cannot get enough oxygen.

“We knew there was going to be an end coming. I was in denial, but Mike was focused. I think that whole, ‘Live every moment,’ . . . he lived that way his whole life. In those last 10 years he knew whatever he was going to do here on Earth, his time was limited. He was not a complainer. He was going to continue. That’s what he did. He continued,” Susan said.

Just eight years ago, Mike taught his last and final year of teaching – and, he did it with an oxygen tank as his constant companion.

“He was so determined to teach that last year and be there for his students, he wore an oxygen tank the entire time. He was going to do everything he could to be there for them, and he was,” his widow said.

He retired seven years ago due to his health condition. It was one of the hardest decisions he’d ever make.

“He always made sure the kids had the foundation to learn. I think that’s one of the reasons they progressed so much. Once they had the foundation in place, he just kept building,” she said.

 

AN EDUCATOR FOR LIFE

Mike was driven to do his best not only in education, but in everything he set out to do.

He obtained his Associate of Arts degree from Eastern Wyoming College, his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wyoming, his master’s degree from Black Hills State in Spearfish, South Dakota focusing on teaching reading, and his principal endorsement from the University of Wyoming.

Mike enjoyed working for Glenrock schools for 38 years, with 34 years of his career teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The other four years he was an elementary principal, but his heart was in teaching students so he quickly returned to the classroom.

“In addition to his family, Mike was the most proud of what he’d accomplished as an educator. He was very confident. He was truly what you would consider to be one of the most masterful teachers I’ve ever seen in my career. He was very proud of the growth his students made and what he’d done to help them. He made a connection with the kids,” Arlene said.

Mike mentored Sunny during one of her college semesters, allowing her to observe his teaching skills in one of his classrooms as she herself studied to be a teacher.

She said her former teacher was a huge inspiration in her life.

“I learned a ton from Mike. I took lots of notes with how to deal with people, kids especially. He offered to sponsor me as a student teacher and that meant a lot to me. Reflecting now as a teacher on things he did in the classroom when I was a student, I realized I learned so much from him.”

Glenrock Schools Superintendent Coley Shadrick said Mike was teaching fourth grade when he was hired to work as principal in 2011.

“I only worked with Mike for one year. He was an amazing teacher. He ran a very education-centered classroom focused on growing students and holding them accountable to perform at their best.

He doesn’t remember Mike sending even one student to the principal’s office for behavior reasons the entire year they worked together.

“The students respected him a great deal and did not want to disappoint him,” he said.

Coley’s daughter, Peyton Shadrick, was a fourth grade student when the family moved to Glenrock.

“Peyton had Mr. Calmes as her teacher. She graduated from Glenrock Jr/Sr High School in May. Mr. Calmes was Peyton’s favorite teacher  – she only had him for one year.  It didn’t take much time for him to make a lasting impression on my daughter. I will be forever grateful. It was a pleasure to have worked with him. Rest in peace, Mike,” Coley said.

 

REMEMBRANCES

The outpouring of love the family received in the form of cards, emails and messages from Mike’s former students affirmed the positive changes in people he helped to bring about during his decades-long teaching career.

“Mr. Calmes was my teacher in the fifth grade. I was in his combined fifth/sixth grade class, brand new at the time. It was very exciting to be in his advanced class and I couldn’t wait to get to school each day. I can still visualize the layout of his classroom and Mr. Calmes teaching our lively class,” Cameron Yung wrote in an email missive last week from Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Cameron said she credits her love of school and lifelong learning to her educators.

“I am grateful this included a dedicated teacher like Mr. Calmes. Mr. Calmes has impacted countless students in Glenrock over his many years in education and has made a positive difference in the community,” Yung wrote.

Colleague Rilla Poniatowski worked with Mike at Grant Elementary School for many years.

“As an educator, whether teaching or leading as principal, Mike was always moving forward. He made every effort to ensure success in his students and teachers.  He believed and lived success breeds success. When computers became the rage, he was on the cutting edge, using them effectively in the classroom. Mike had a heart for all students, perhaps because by his own admission he was quite a handful as a child – so he knew the tricks of the trade,” she said.

 

A MAN OF FAITH

Mike’s faith and devotion to Christianity were unflappable, according to many of his friends, family and colleagues.

“His faith in Jesus Christ continued growing stronger throughout his lifetime. Mike’s last months were very difficult, yet in spite of that, he didn’t become bitter, doubt God’s love or waver in his faith at all – in fact, his faith grew.  Much like the picture of the old cowboy on horseback which hangs on his living room wall, Mike was strong, weathered and moving forward.  He would tell you, ‘I know where I’m going,’” Rilla explained.

One of Arlene’s most vivid memories of Mike surrounds the strength of his love of God.

“We had a lot of really deep conversations. Mike had no fear of dying. He said  ‘I’ve lived a good life. I’ve prepared my family.’ We’d sit and cry together. He was so dignified and ready. He did everything he could to make it easier on his family,” she said.

Another characteristic which stands out about Mike’s personality is that he wrote his own obituary.

“If you are reading this, it means I, Mike, am already in heaven,” he wrote in his final communication. Mike wanted everyone in his life to know he “left this world a happy camper and everything will be all right.”

 

IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE

Amid the shared tears and laughter, now is the time to celebrate Mike Calmes’ life on Friday at noon  in the Glenrock Jr/Sr High School gymnasium on 225 Oregon Trail.

Attendees are encouraged to wear Herder purple colors. Lunch will be served in the school cafeteria following the memorial service and hand sanitizer will be available. The family requests attendees bring a mask, scarf or kerchief.

The Mike Calmes Memorial 4th-6th Playground Fund and the Mike Calmes Christian Youth Fund were created in his honor, in lieu of flowers.

The playground fund helps to provide playground equipment for fourth-sixth graders at Grant Elementary School; the youth fund will provide scholarships for Christ-based youth activities.

Anyone wishing to contribute can either drop off or send donations in care of Hilltop Bank, P.O. Box 640, Glenrock, Wyoming, 82637. Checks should be made out to the memorial of choice; if donating to the youth fund, please designate in the memo line which local church the funds should be applied to.

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