Dennis Thurman[Editor’s note: Beth Thurman’s tribute to retired Drew Central science teacher Dennis Thurman who died Monday following a battle with cancer.]

To say he touched the lives of many would seem almost like an understatement, even a cliche, because Dennis Thurman did more than touch lives: he changed them.

Thurman was so tiny that his life began in a shoe box, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in energy – energy spent making his community and the school where he taught a better place.

He was all over the halls and campus of Drew Central where he taught for many years. Everyone knew him. They knew his loquacious manner, his booming voice, and his quick movement from one place to another.

From the bus to the classroom to the college to science fairs, Dennis Thurman was a mover and shaker. Give him an idea, and he could find some students to help make it a reality. The green house on the Drew Central campus was his creation. The first flower beds on campus were more of his ideas.

Find a student in need, and Thurman and his science club creation would raise money to help that student. If someone lost a family member or loved one, a ham was on its way courtesy of the Science Club’s hard work.

Dennis Thurman made those around him conscious of the fact that they had been blessed and should do something for others.

Show him a student with an original idea, and he would figure out how to inspire that person to continue working and tweaking his or her science fair project until they were loaded on a plane and headed not just to state finals but international finals.

Running around campus with a net was nothing for Thurman’s students. His science classroom was filled with insect (definitely not bug) collections. Just last week he was thinking of putting together a collection for younger students. Wild flowers were another Thurman passion. He loved science and trying to make it come to life for his students. He was a hands-on teacher.

Rewards were part of his system of learning. If the students had done well, they could expect to be rewarded. Smelling fresh doughnuts in his classroom was not unusual. A hamburger cook out at lunch for students who excelled was the norm in his class. Field trips were his modus operandi.
Thurman’s success as a teacher did not stop inside a classroom. Choir concerts, band concerts or someone like former Drew Central student Ward Davis singing his own country style of music all the way across the state would find Thurman and other devoted teachers in the audience. Drew Central was blessed with great teachers who loved their students.

Dennis Thurman was no respecter of sports events. He may not have agreed with the money spent on football that could have been spent on education, but once it became a Pirate sport, he was on board to support those students who participated.

If there were an award for Pirate Pride, Dennis Thurman was the best candidate as he was there in the gym, on the baseball field, or out on the football sidelines. His booming voice could be heard cheering on the teams, helping students find rides home from games, raising money, and being a No.1 Pirate supporter.

Thurman and Pirate pride were synonymous. He loved his school. Not only did he become a Pirate in first grade, he remained one for 40 extra years and continued to attend games right up through last week when anyone else would have succumbed to the cancer and remained at home.

But Thurman’s good deeds did not end at the walls of the school house. No widow lady in his community went without. He loved gardening, but he enjoyed sharing its bounty with his neighbors even more. If he had extra game meat or fish, it was shared. If they needed home repairs, he would see that they were accomplished. He relished sharing anything he had and giving to others.

The Fountain Hill First Baptist church has lost one of its hardest workers. He enjoyed practicing what Jesus preached. He loved attending Sunday School and working with the Vacation Bible School students. When church suppers were arranged, his fish cooker was as busy frying fish as Peter had been casting out the nets in the New Testament. He saw to it that the needy, little old ladies got to church and back home.

After retiring from Drew Central, the voluntary fire department became one of Thurman’s passions. He donated land so that the equipment would not only be protected but also used to save homes and land in Lacey and the surrounding area. He was a person who was driven and passionate about his work ethics and beliefs.

Thurman never failed to have enough energy to help someone out. He was sincerely a man among men at school, his church, and in his community, but his wife and daughters were paramount. Everyone knew not to mess with his wife, daughters, nor grandchildren. He loved his community and school, but his family was his life.

I wish everyone could have known him. We had three Thurmans in the halls of Drew Central, and two of us were extroverted, loud mouths. His sweet wife was a teacher extraordinaire, who was much calmer with her many teaching talents. Dennis and I could make a dead flower seek solitude.

He was loquacious and passionate. If a student had a fire loss, he was there with his Science Club to see that money was raised and household belongings acquired. He loved the school, its students, the community, and a ballgame was not a ballgame if he were not on the sidelines. He took being a teacher and life-long resident of the area to the nth degree.

Drew County, Drew Central schools, the Lacey community, the volunteer fire department, and Thurman’s friends, family, and coworkers, as well as former students truly lost a great friend today. Dennis Thurman impacted all with whom he has come into contact. He was one of a kind.

We need more altruistic people like Dennis Thurman. He gave freely of himself, and his passing means a piece of us all has passed. May another Dennis Thurman be borne who can dazzle and perform half as many great deeds as Dennis Von Thurman.

Funeral services will be held November 30 at 10 a.m. at the Earl Willis Auditorium on the Drew Central campus in Monticello.