Passing the torch: Teacher stays through end of student's educational journey

When Walker Healey walked across the stage to accept his degree during Trine University’s Commencement on May 13, adjunct faculty member Richard Knapp was in the audience to support him.

Just as he’d supported Healey since middle school.

“Mr. Knapp’s been an inspiration for me and I’m so happy that we can end this all together,” said Healey.

Their journey together began when Healey was a student at DeKalb Middle School, where Knapp served as associate principal. Knapp said the two first connected thanks to a common interest in baseball’s Atlanta Braves.

“I go back to the ’60s and the Hank Aaron and the Eddie Mathews era,” said Knapp. “Walker came along when the Atlanta Braves were doing well, so he became an Atlanta Braves fan. I had Braves memorabilia in my office, so Walker naturally gravitated there and we would talk Braves.”

Knapp retired from that position and went to work for the DeKalb Central United School District as school safety specialist and safety coordinator, behavior intervention coordinator and liaison to non-public schools. The district located his office in DeKalb High School, where Healey attended and was already thinking of teaching as a career.

“The teacher at DeKalb High School who oversees the cadet teaching program was in the classroom right next door to my office, so Walker and I were in proximity to each other quite often when we were in the high school as well,” Knapp said.

When Healey came to Trine as an elementary education major, Knapp was serving at the university as an adjunct faculty member in the Franks School of Education.

“When he first came here as a freshman, he said you have to stay here until I graduate,” Knapp said.

“I wanted him to stay with me all four years,” Healey said. “I knew that he taught in my senior year and I wanted him to stay along all the way for the ride. Mr. Knapp was always one of my favorites in high school, and I thought it would be awesome to be with an educator I looked up to in college and for him to continue to teach me.”

In fact, Knapp had planned to retire from Trine a year ago, but Healey asked him to stay.

“My wife was scheduled to retire a year ago so that was the date we had both planned to retire, but Walker was insistent that I needed to be here for him, so I said I’ll be here and I’ll stay until I get you through,” Knapp said. “In the meantime my wife decided to work an additional semester.”

“I knew he was probably ready (to retire) but he promised me that he would stay and he was true to his word, which I knew he would be,” Healey said.

The extra year also gave Healey the chance to be in Knapp’s educational measurement class, which is offered to all senior education majors.

“Walker’s a super kid. He’s a good student,” said Knapp. “He’s always been very driven and knew early on he wanted to be a teacher. We had a lot of things in common and a lot of things to talk about and it was just a very good relationship. He’s a great student and a great person, so he didn’t need a lot of help to get through, but it was nice to have the relationship.

“One of the things I always talk to the kids about as they’re going into teaching is that more than anything else this is about relationships. It’s gratifying that you’ve made connections, that you’ve got a relationship with students that means enough to them that they want to see it through to the end together.”

Now that Knapp will retire and Healey will begin his teaching career, Healey hopes to carry on Knapp’s legacy.

“I knew that Mr. Knapp was always there for me and I want to have that same role in students’ lives as he did for me,” said Healey. “One of my highest goals is to impact students like he’s impacted me.”

Photo: Richard Knapp, left, and Walker Healey (Photo by Dean Orewiler)