A Blessing for My Teacher

Dear Mr. Toler,

I just heard from Aileen, your beloved wife of  40 years, that you passed this morning. I have gratitude that she reached out to let me know but pain in my heart that you are gone. What hurts even more is that I feel like I missed so many moments to tell you how much you mean(t) to me.  And like I always tell everyone else, I didn’t listen to my own advice – don’t wait to tell someone how much they mean to you because some day it will be too late. I can only hope you knew deep down that you meant the world to me.

Mr toler closeYou were the first teacher to get me into my Jewish shell. Growing up in the mountains outside of Denver was not easy for a Jewish girl. My parents were committed to taking me and my sister to Temple Sinai every week for religious school, Shabbat and holiday services, and youth group. But being Jewish in a small mountain town is challenging when there are only 5 Jewish kids in school, 2 of whom admitted it. (At least that’s what I always said, and I don’t even think there were that many.)

I was in your 9th grade class, Accelerated History and English (the days before AP or Gate – remember, it’s a mountain town). It was time for group projects and my group chose World War II. I wanted to focus on the USO because of my love for theater and singing. But you challenged me and said, ‘Heidi, you should focus on the Holocaust.’ My response, ‘the Holo what?’ It was time I learned about one of the most difficult yet important times in modern Jewish history because as you explained it to me, I  had to become one of the teachers who would never let the world forget.

I worked hard that semester because you inspired me and encouraged me. You pushed me and never made the assignment easy. You knew what I was capable of even when I didn’t. You believed in me. And that one class project turned into a series of high school presentations that turned into a Rabbinic Thesis that turned into a life long passion of making sure the world never forgets the Holocaust. That was you Mr. Toler!

You were so important in my life that I had to have you not only at IMG_7665my wedding, but standing beside us as a chuppah holder. You laughed and danced that night and it was awesome to have my teacher and friend celebrate with Matt and me.

Time moved on and we went our separate ways. I was ordained and moved to southern California and you moved from Montrose, Colorado to Yuma, Arizona to be with your daughter and her husband.

Life moves forward but there are those moments that we are drawn back into memory. Mr. Toler….Frank….I cannot begin to tell you how much you were and are a part of my life. You were one of those who gave me a foundation from which to stand, a platform from which to speak, a lectern from which to teach. You helped me find my voice and be who I am and never let anyone tell me to be something else. You gave me the courage to speak out against injustice and showed me that the words are  written on my heart. You were and are the greatest teacher I had because you believed in me and you never gave up on me.

I will miss you in life but am grateful for the memories that surround me and strengthen me. I wish Aileen and your family love, comfort and strength. Zichrono livracha, may your memory always be a blessing.

With love,
Your student always,
Heidi Williams (Cohen)

28 thoughts on “A Blessing for My Teacher”

  1. Beautifully said. He was so very special. Our love and sympathy go out to Aileen and his family.

  2. A beautiful tribute to a gifted teacher from a special and gifted student and person. Being in your wedding meant the world to him. He was so happy to be able to be a part of it. He knew how much he meant to you and was proud of everything you did and knew you were making a difference in the world through all the people you reach with your special gift of enthusiasm and love and kindness and knowledge. I am glad he was a part of that and he was too.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been thinking about him, suddenly, a lot lately. I too was student at West Jeff. What a blessing he was, and still is, to this world. He embodied character; he had it and he was one! His large legacy will be paid forward and will continue to grow and grace this world. May his family find peace during this time.

  4. Heidi this is beautiful. I have often wondered where my favorite teacher went in the world. I longed to thank him for seeing something special in me (and all of his students) before we could see it in ourselves. I have missed him over the last 30 years and will continue to do so. Thank you for sharing your story. I remember vividly your Holocaust project and what it sparked in your spirit. It makes sense that it was Mr. Toler who steered you in that direction. Much love and peace to the Toler family.

  5. Mr. Toler was one of my very favorite teachers! His passion for history and education helped instill the same passion in me, leading me to follow in those footsteps, if even for just a short while. I will remember his smile and sense of humor always! Prayers headed up on behalf of all who are suffering the loss of his presence on earth.

  6. Heidi thank you for posting such a heartwarming tribute to such an amazing teacher. His family should know what a tremendous impact he had on his students both in the past and presernt! No teacher left a bigger imprint in my development than him! My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

  7. Thank you so very much for sharing this memory of Mr. Toler with the world. I too was blessed to have had him as a teacher and am very saddened by his passing. His memory will live on through the lives of the people he forever impacted. God Speed Mr. Toler!

  8. Thanks for sharing. Mr. Toler and Mr. McClaren were the reason I became a social studies teacher. He will be missed.

  9. Wow! Beautifully said Heidi! Thank you! Mr. Toler was my favorite teacher. Your words brought me right back to 9th grade and to this day the Holocaust has such an impact on me more than anything I learned and I owe that to the way Mr. Toler and all the students that inspired me to look deeper. He had a gift of teaching and for making students appreciate and challenge the gifts they have personally. He did this for me and I smile thinking of those memories. Love and condolences to the family.

  10. What an amazing teacher he was! He inspired and encouraged and challenged each of us in so many different ways. My condolences to his wife Aileen and family !

  11. Thanks Mr. Toler. A good man and a great teacher. Thanks for all the knowledge…and all the laughs. You will be missed.

  12. Wonderfully said, Heidi. Mr. Toler was one of my favorite teachers. We were all very lucky to have been in his classroom. My condolences to his family.

  13. What a lovely story, Heidi ! I was just thinking of him 2 days ago, wondering what had become of him. I’m so sad to read about this; he was one of my favorite teachers in 9th grade along with Mrs. Clouser, and I hope my daughter has a teacher someday that shows her how to have passion for learning and to not be afraid to follow her dreams. Heartfelt condolences for his family and friends. Rest in Peace, Mr. Toler, you are never forgotten.

  14. This was very sweet. He was a great teacher. I remember he had nicknames for all of us. Funny guy; he will be missed.

  15. Beautifully said, Heidi! I can see from these comments that Mr. Toler’s teaching had far reaching effects. We are all better people because of his influence! Love and condolences to the family.

  16. Mr. Toler was my absolute favorite teacher. After moving to this little mountain town from Arkansas, he took my struggles to find my place as a way to challenge me which in turn sparked my interest. My best grade was in his class. He gave me just enough grief to make me feel like he cared and it was so appreciated. I remember coming to him a couple of times when I was struggling with other classes and he made time. Such a good man.

  17. I had Mr. Toler for geography. He always told me if I want to really learn about the places he taught about in class that you really need to get out there and visit them. I took his advice to heart and travel to as many places as I can. He was funny, fair, and honest and didn’t take any crap. He will be missed.

  18. Do any of you know if he also taught at O’Connel Jr. High in 1979- 80? I am almost positive I had him for social studies.

  19. This man is one of a handful of amazing teachers that I had the privilege to learn about the world from. He stood out as someone who made genuine connections with all of his students, not just the popular or smart ones. May you find a teacher in your next realm as awesome as you were. Peace, light and live to you in the beyond, and to your people who remain.

  20. Such a beautiful & touching tribute to a wonderful man & great teacher. My deepest sympathy and lots of love going out to his family and friends. Feeling so blessed that I had the chance to be his student,

  21. Thank you, my uncle was one of a kind! Your words are from the heart, and I appreciate that. He helped me alot over the years, with good advice, and strong support, I’ll miss him so much!!, So many good times in Nags Head North Carolina!

  22. In junior high at West Jeff I absolutely hated the thought every day of going to school!! I thought many times of quitting. If it was not for one certain teacher there who had a sense of humor…a sense of humor that exceeded that of all comedians of the ages of time, I would have probably never made it onto high school and further than I ever expected. (blessed by his presence there as well). I want to say thank you Mr. Toler and may you be blessed. and my condolences to your family. If I may help them in anyway please let me know.

  23. I was truly blessed to have known Mr Toler he was by far my favorite teacher I ever had. He challenged me to excel and become a better student and a better man. He made learning fun! I had him at West Jeff Jr High and then again when he came up to Evergreen High School. I remember when he used to throw the erasers at kids who were talking in class and when we would watch movies on the old projecters he would chuck the round tins the film came in over our heads and they would crash against the wall, due to kids not paying attention. He is a man I looked up to! Thank you for being a wonderful part of my life! I will never forget you…

  24. All the people in the world who wont ever know what it was like to have a class with Mr. Toler in one of those brown temporary buildings when you are in the eighth grade in Conifer, CO.

    He is in heaven with Ray Charles now.

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