GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools is mourning the death of a longtime Zoo School teacher.
Dennis Kretschman started having health problems during the school day Monday. He was taken to the hospital, where he died of cardiac arrest.
“Mr. K served GRPS schools for 45 years,” Zoo School Principal Greg Ramey said. “He’s a legend.”
Kretschman spent decades touching the lives of students, colleagues and his family. He was remembered Tuesday as not only an educator, but also a life coach of sorts who passed on valuable skills and a passion for nature.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be the student I am. I wouldn’t be going the direction I am going,” former Zoo School student Alexander Dyke, now a senior at City High Middle School, said. “I want to go on to be a biology major. It was because of him, because of zoology. That really drives me to do what I am passionate about.”
Students recalled his powerful presence in the classroom and a creative teaching style, often pulling out his guitar to play for them.
“It’s just going to be very sad not to come in this classroom to get to see that radiation and that vibe of the classroom just light up because of him,” Dyke said.
“He really gave all of his students opportunities that I don’t think you can get anywhere else,” Mia Diaz, another former student who’s now a junior at City High Middle School, said. “The knowledge that he had and the passion he had for what he was teaching was evident in everything he did.”
Crisis counselors were on hand at the Zoo School Tuesday to help students and staff members. Students painted rocks with fond memories of Kretschman to remember him.
Principal Ramey said the school community is looking forward with him in their hearts.
“This was just a great man,” Ramey said. “Didn’t you ever know someone that when you walked into a room, you just knew they were a great person? That’s the kind of man he was and that’s the kind of legacy he leaves with us.”
GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal released this statement on Kretschman Tuesday:
“On behalf of the Grand Rapids Board of Education and the entire GRPS family, I want to extend our thoughts, prayers, and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Dennis Kretschman. Mr. Kretschman was a beloved part of the foundation of Zoo School, and his passion for place-based education and memorable, hands-on learning helped shape the school into what it is today. His impact on students and families over the past 40 years simply cannot be measured. Our trained crisis team, which includes counselors, social workers, and support staff, will be made available to assist any students, families, and staff who need their services.”