Ken Reel inspired students to discuss class, life lessons

By Kalea Hall


Sabrina Eaton will always remember 7:22:10 a.m. as the exact time Abraham Lincoln died.

Each time she remembers, she becomes an eighth-grade student at Canfield again, listening to her history teacher, Ken Reel, tell her about his favorite American icon.

Eaton, also a teacher at Canfield, still recalls teaching across from Reel in the same room he taught her about Lincoln and became a life-long mentor. Reel died Wednesday after battling T-Cell lymphoma for more than a year. But his lively classroom and fatherly advice will live on in his students’ memories.

“I look at him as bringing this American icon [Abraham Lincoln] to our dinner table,” Eaton said. “We talked about it at home and you don’t see that anymore.”

He had a magical way of teaching, she said.

In honor of Reel, Eaton organized a vigil Thursday evening at the school where he taught, and brought together students, faculty, staff, family and friends for a night of celebration. Everyone clutched each other and their yellow and green balloons as the lyrics from Amazing Grace entered the air. A few students spoke about the lessons they learned from Reel about never giving up in the classroom and playing hard and having fun on the basketball court.

Reel, 67, hated missing a day during the 44 years he taught eighth grade history at Canfield Village Middle School and the 27 years he coached eighth-grade girls basketball. This year, Real was inducted into the Canfield Athletic Hall of Fame.

“You know, anybody you come across, no matter what age, no matter if they were in his class or if they were a parent, they all thought he was number one,” said Alex Geordan, Canfield schools superintendent.

Last February, Reel retired from his teaching job, but his students were not ready to say goodbye just yet. In his honor, they coordinated a Relay for Life team for last June’s walk.

In two short months, Eaton and the students raised $9,000 from donations and selling T-shirts with “Team Reel” on the front and one of Reel’s favorite quotes on the back — “Disperse ye rebels,” from the American Revolution. Reel would use the quote to break up the students who congregated in the halls.

“He taught us to think about the lives that [our forefathers ] lived and the lessons we could learn from those people, and that we should learn to listen instead of talking,” Eaton said.

Reel’s son, Matt, admired his father’s passion for teaching and remembered how his father could not wait for summer to be over and for the school session to start again. Matt also teaches for Canfield at the high school. His sister is also a teacher and so is his mother. Matt is happy to know how many lives his father touched through his teaching.

“It’s better to have that high standard to live up to,” Matt said.

Outside of being able to show middle school students that history is not boring, and bringing out the strengths of all his players on the court, Reel loved to farm and ride on his John Deere tractors. For this year’s Relay for Life, the John Deere theme fit right in. Shirts were sold that depicted Reel in caricature form on his tractor with the words “plowin’ through cancer” on the back. The team raised a total $8,300 with the shirts and donations. Reel was in the hospital last Friday when his team walked, but Eaton said “he felt” them in his presence and had the best night of his whole week.

“We had triple the amount of walkers this year,” Eaton said. “Again, it is a real testament to him and to the lives he has impacted.”

In addition to honoring Reel with a Relay team, Canfield awards 10 students with the Kenneth A. Reel Citizenship award. Last year, Reel handed the students their awards, despite being sick.

“Your end-of-the-school-year idea for me to come in and speak to the kids filled a big hole in my life, allowing me to exit in a tremendous way,” Reel wrote to Eaton.

With tears in her eyes, Eaton ended her speech at the vigil with a quote from her “beloved friend, colleague, teacher and mentor’s” favorite American icon: Abraham Lincoln.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

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