Greencastle-Antrim High School mourns loss of second teacher in six months
Greencastle-Antrim High School is reeling from the death of a second teacher this year.
Kathe Whipp, 43, a math teacher, died Friday, May 16, at Meritus Medical Center from complications of a surgical procedure. She had taught at the school for 14 years.
Samuel Forney, 58, the band instructor, died Nov. 10 from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He had taught in the district for 32 years.
"This is unheard of," said high school principal Ed Rife. "For one faculty to die in service, and then another six months later. It's unbelievable."
He credited the staff and students for pulling together on both occasions to support each other and work through the grief process.
Superintendent Greg Hoover felt the same way. A Greencastle native, he could not remember any teacher dying while employed since he entered the high school in 1969. "It's been a traumatic year."
Whipp primarily taught geometry, and was a member of the Student Assistance Team. "She touched a lot of lives," Rife said. "She never gave up on a student. She is being remembered for her booming voice, her stories, her quirky T-shirts, and her love of her niece, nephew and cats."
Hoover shared that her last day of school, Whipp stayed late to help a student prepare for the Keystone Exams.
"That's the type of person she was, and how we'll remember her."
The two learned of her unexpected death on Saturday morning. They were in shock and immediately called the administrative and counseling team into action. They emailed and also called every faculty member to personally convey the news. Extra counselors, including school psychologist Jeffrey Longfellow and Healthy Communities Partnership, were scheduled to be present at school Monday.
High school counselors Diane Reed and Jenniffer Everetts spent the day with Whipp's classes.
"They did a wonderful job, and I can't say enough about them all," Rife said.
Homeroom was extended so students could talk to their teachers. A moment of silence was observed. The library was a counseling station all day. Whipp's homeroom students, who had been with her for three years, received special attention. They participated in activities to share their memories and special moments.
Students put together a bulletin board and a book of memories, which will be given to Whipp's family.
"We didn't focus on math that day," Rife said. "It was a tough day. Everyone took care of each other. The kids were very mature and handled it well."
The staff counselors noticed that the pupils in Whipp's classes were like family, and trusted each other enough to open up with their emotions. The pair could tell how much Whipp had touched them.
"They said she accepted everybody," Everetts said.
Reed knew her as a strong personality, dedicated to her subject, caring tremendously about her students, and a good friend to many. Her death renewed the pain people felt at the loss of Forney in the fall.
At the high school awards assembly May 22, Whipp and Forney were recognized posthumously as Outstanding Educators. The students gave them a standing ovation. Because Whipp had a reputation with her T-shirts and also loved to bake, everyone wore crazy T-shirts on May 23, and students received cookies at lunch. Her memorial service was that evening at Minnich Funeral Home in Hagerstown, Md.
Student tributes in the memory book included these comments: "Sorry I gave you attitude, but you gave it to me right back." "She always told it how it was, no mercy." "She lived to help and to please her students." "Ms. Whipp was the best teacher I ever had. She was one of those people who just brightened the room."
A supplement to the high school yearbook will be distributed this summer, with a section honoring Whipp. She was preceded in death by her parents, and survived by her brother James Whipp II, his wife Cindy, niece Heather, and nephew Josh.
Hoover also credited the administration, faculty and students for pulling together in their sorrow. "They were outstanding through this. Their compassion is heartwarming."