For Bear

Difficulty, tragedy, calamity, and heartache—unfortunately, this world is all too often filled with such dark realties. Indeed, the older we get, the more we appreciate the profundity of life and people and relationships; likewise, as the years pass by, we are increasingly struck with the sadness of lives interrupted, people deeply hurt, and relationships severed.

During my career, I have had the privilege of encountering some truly terrific educators and wonderful human beings. Recently, we lost one of those terrific and wonderful individuals as Henry “Bear” Larsen left this world and entered into the next.

Many years ago, as a young boy, I sat in Mr. Larsen’s World Cultures class, mesmerized by his ability to weave together stories and somehow recreate events from long ago. History was his thing, and he invited us to travel with him on his sojourns into the past, all the while teaching us history’s lessons and encouraging us to allow bygone days to make an impression in our lives today. Henry Larsen was a giant of an educator, and very, very few will ever come close to filling his shoes.

Years later, as I too became a teacher, I came to know Bear as a colleague and friend. When you return to your own high school to teach, it can sometimes be awkward trying to make this transition and relate to your former teachers. After all, Bear was an old pro, and I was a young novice. But Bear Larsen made the transition easy for me, being ever so kind and encouraging along the way. I never felt anything but ease in his presence.

Indeed, in recent years, Bear shared information with me about a connection that existed between our families. You see, many years prior, my Uncle Ray, an inspirational and legendary educator and coach at Pottsville, was taken from us all too soon. When my uncle passed away, and as many of his contemporaries can testify, things just weren’t the same, and Pottsville Area was missing something. A spark, an inspiration, a history teacher was gone. Who could ever take his place? What I discovered in conversations with Bear, however, was that when my uncle was in the hospital and the history department needed a substitute, it was Bear who stepped into that role. Though Bear was ever so humble and self-effacing in his communication of these facts, I couldn’t help but think that the great Ray DiCello, history teacher and coach extraordinaire, had passed the baton—or was that the Spirit Stick?—to history teacher and coach extraordinaire, Henry Larsen. Both taught history with incredible fervor. Both inspired with immense passion. And, sadly, both succumbed (in March) to the same dreaded illness, Leukemia. But more important than any of these things is that they both left a mark that is indelible and a legacy that endures.

Yes, we will miss seeing Bear wander the halls of the Castle on the Hill, but memories of this great man will always serve to remind us of why we so treasure this place and our sacred traditions in the first place. Yes, we will miss his presence at Pep Rallies, his utterly unique and inspiring messages, and the wielding of his swords, the Spirit Stick performance par excellence. But we will also remember how he taught us not only with his words but, more significantly still, with his life.

It has not been lost to many of us that these terribly sad events have taken place during the Easter season. But what is Easter if not a strange combination of immense sadness and incomprehensible triumph. The Savior, you recall, experienced the worst of human suffering as he died on a hill called Golgotha. All seemed lost as misery and hopelessness had seemingly won the day. But then something profound and unexpected and miraculous took place as the worst of our enemies, death itself, met its match in God’s unique Son. Easter is about the victory of life over death, and our greatest hope is that our dear friend Bear Larsen is already experiencing the first fruits of this triumph. May the good and gracious Lord welcome him freely, and may his family and friends have faith enough to trust that, though tears and anguish abound today, one day we too will join Bear and his Savior in this same victory.

Thank you, Bear, for all that you have achieved and all that you have bequeathed to us—excellence, character, goodness, faithfulness, and Crimson Tide spirit. Today and always, Roll Tide!

P.S. Please greet Ray-Ray from us.