Tom Simpler, a teacher and sports enthusiast that impacted many Kodiak youths, died Saturday at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. He was 80.
The family said he died of lung cancer. He was medevaced to Anchorage a few weeks ago.
“While our family is very sad, he lived a very happy and healthy life,” Tom’s niece, Dorene, wrote in a text message.
Simpler was a well-liked math teacher at Kodiak High School. He started in 1965 and ended his career as the school district’s athletic director until 2000. In addition, he was a youth basketball coach and volunteered at the scorer’s table for high school games.
His love of basketball developed in Cordova, where he was point guard and captain of the Wolverines his senior year in 1960.
“When I received the message from Dorene that her uncle had passed away, I immediately thought how the world had just become a sadder place. Another legendary Kodiak icon gone,” Patrick Floyd, a Kodiak sports historian, wrote on the Kodiak Sports History Facebook page.
“But, as the day drew on, and I reflected, I smiled and felt so much gratitude. Thinking of how many people, like myself, who were turned around in Mr Simpler’s classroom. How many better human beings out there in this world because of the lessons learned from that single man.”
That was apparent as the post quickly became one of the most commented on the Kodiak Sports History Facebook page. By Tuesday afternoon, 107 comments had been left and the post had been viewed 3,300 times.
All left condolences to the family, while others shared a story about Simpler.
Several of Simpler’s students said he was the reason they became a teacher, including Jesse Mickelson, a math instructor at Kodiak College.
“He was one of the best math instructors I ever had,” Mickelson commented. “I still use many of his ideas and methods in my own classes to this day. He wasn’t just an awesome teacher, though. He was an awesome person.”
Simpler opened his home to Doug Letch, aide to Senator Gary Stevens.
“Tom was one of the best people I ever knew,” Letch wrote. “Took me into his home for several legislative interims, where would ruminate on the Kardashians, ‘The Walking Dead’ and the fact that the Mariners just didn’t listen to us. I will miss him dearly and remember him always.”
Former Kodiak High School principal Mel LeVan called Simpler his mentor, helping him by example and sharing how he organized and managed a classroom. He taught three algebra classes during his first year as AD. He let LeVan teach calculus.
“(He) taught those algebra classes with the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher, not a 30-year veteran,” LeVan wrote. “He modeled what it means to be a classroom teacher until his last day in the classroom.”
Simpler was an avid runner, leading a running group on the island.
“I have vivid memories of him running the halls after school with a small group, or getting his couple miles (rain or shine) outside,” David Barber wrote.
The theme of most posts — Simpler was a genuine person.
“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Steve Cole wrote. “He always had a smile on his face and a kind word to pass on. He was a great AD to work under.”