Blogs - September 10, 2019
The Teacher, the Passing and the Baton
Noah Guntle (BS 19) remembers his parents soberly calling him and his six siblings into their living room. It was a familiar room where it was common to gather — his mom had spent the last two decades diligently and enthusiastically home schooling all of them there. But this day evidenced a different tone.
“We have something to tell you,” Guntle’s parents said.
Guntle’s mom, Cathy, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Guntle was just 16.
They all picked up extra chores, but Cathy continued to run the household as best as she was able. “She did everything she could to keep things normal,” Guntle says with clear adoration. “She never complained and was so selfless no matter what she was going through.” But with Guntle and his two younger siblings still at home, Cathy eventually became too sick to home-school, unaware that the answer to their dilemma was moving in down the street.
Providentially, one of the co-founders of a new all-boys charter school, Smith Academy for Excellence, had recently become a neighbor.
As soon as Cathy learned of the school, she enrolled Guntle and his younger brother. It was 2012, and Smith Academy was opening its doors for the first time. Guntle began his freshman year there. “She wanted us to go, so we did, and it altered the course of my life.”
AN UNEXPECTED CHANGE
Smith Academy for Excellence was co-founded by Corey Smith (BS 04), his brother, Cameron, and his father, Thomas. Not only did Corey earn his elementary education degree from Grace, but Grace is the Academy’s authorizer — approved by the state legislature to bring a charter school into existence and provide accountability for the school’s meeting of state and federal requirements.
Corey and his family established the all-boys charter school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to strategically develop elite scholars of responsibility, dignity, character and service. Since its opening in 2012, the school has grown to serve grades 4 through 12, and its enrollment is up 37%.
When Guntle joined the inaugural freshman class at the Academy, he saw it as an opportunity to honor his mom’s desire for him to be there. Though stretched socially and academically, he rose to the challenges, says Corey. “When he entered school, Noah expressed a desire to graduate early if possible. We put a plan together, and he worked at it. Noah graduated in three and a half years, a semester earlier than the rest of his classmates.” Since Guntle was in the Academy’s first graduating class, that also made him the first graduate of the Academy; plus, Guntle was named the valedictorian with a 4.117 GPA.
Guntle became known as a trusted and loyal friend at the Academy, and his classmates knew he would befriend anyone who needed help. The student body was racially and economically diverse, and Guntle began to understand the value of a strong and compassionate education early in children’s lives. For the first time, Guntle also saw a future for himself in teaching. “I loved my math teacher. He loved soccer and math like I did. He was fun and engaging and was a mentor to me. I saw myself in him.”
A PEACEFUL DEPARTURE
Just after finishing his sophomore year at the Academy, on June 13, 2014, Cathy Guntle passed away. “She left in peace,” he says, “and the translation in that was now for us to be at peace with it.” Cathy’s death only intensified Guntle’s efforts to do well in school. “I was devastated, but I wanted to use my life to be her legacy,” says Guntle. His desire to make the kind of impact on others that his mom made on him as a teacher was growing. “Once Mom was gone, it was a quick transition into maturity. I realized our time is limited. What am I going to do with my life that is meaningful now?”
A CALLING UNCOVERED
During Guntle’s final years at the Academy, he went on several college visits and learned about Grace College. It was close enough to his home that he could commute, and Dr. Laurie Owen, dean of the School of Education, built on his desire to major in elementary education.
“I wanted to be an anchor to students who might be struggling or going through a difficult time,” says Guntle, who appreciated how pivotal that could be during his years at the Academy. While at Grace, Dr. Owen became like a surrogate mom to him. “I’ve had several women step into that role of encouragement that I was missing when my mom died. Dr. Owen did that for me.” She also embodied the teacher Guntle wanted to be. “Dr. Owen — the energy she emits — it’s contagious. It’s who she is. She’s so authentic in her expression. No matter how bad the day is, she can make you smile.”
When it came time for Guntle to begin his student teaching, he contacted Smith Academy to see if they’d be interested. “I wanted to give something back … to serve in the ways the teachers had served me.”
Administrators jumped at the chance to welcome Guntle back as the Academy’s first student teacher. “It was a phenomenal experience having a Smith Academy alumnus return to student teach,” says Corey. “He did a fabulous job. He was as conscientious a teacher as he was a student. He really cared for his class and invested in their lives.” Ms. Carrie Drudge, Noah’s supervising teacher at the Academy, says Guntle is “a man of many talents. When the class needed to refocus or get back to work, Mr. Guntle would break into one of his many accents, which would get lots of smiles. His magic tricks, sleight of hand and never-ending ‘dad’ jokes were also a big hit.”
This spring, Guntle completed his student teaching at the Academy, graduated in May and married his high school sweetheart and fellow teacher, Abbey Ramsour (BS 18). Armed with his teaching degree, Guntle is walking in his mother’s footsteps, preparing to shepherd students academically and spiritually. “She had a really giving heart. I felt like she had passed the baton, and I wanted to carry that baton — the attitude she had towards her faith, her enthusiasm, her bright character, her journey with God.”
A QUESTION ANSWERED
It’s been five years since Guntle’s mom’s death, but the grief is never far from him. “People say it gets easier, but it hasn’t. It doesn’t go away. It kind of hides as we get distracted.” But Guntle doesn’t just hold the grief; he also holds the precious memories that remind him to prioritize his relationship with God and to love people first.
“I’ve decided to let it affect me in a positive way, to not be angry with God. It may seem heartbreaking, what happened. It was. But there was an impact because of it, not just on who I am but it was a turning point in my circumstances. It opened up another path for me.”
Guntle recalls how his mom would take each of her seven kids out for lunch on their birthdays. “Every year she’d ask me, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ And every birthday, I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Now, when Guntle thinks about what he’d say to his mom if she were still here, he chokes up.
“Mom, I finally figured it out. All those times you took me out. I have an answer for you now.”