Mr. Popp (pronounced "pope") was my high school counselor, my mentor, and my friend. He died a week ago, today would have been his 87th birthday.
Except for maybe running into him at the local Sam's Club, the last time I saw him was November 2017. He'd had a heart scare, and I went to his house when he got out of the hospital. I last spoke to him a week or two before his passing. He sounded so different, I feared the end might be near.
Mr. Popp spent over 50 years
in education, all in the same school district. He started as a math teacher in the mid to late 1950s. In fact, he and my high school principal were both math teachers, and when I started teaching they took me to Denny's one morning before school to give me the lay of the land. By that time they'd been out of the math classroom for a couple decades, but the advice they gave was practical and from the heart. I still
follow it, 20+ years later.
Mr. Popp eventually became a counselor, and we in the Foothill High Class of 1983 were lucky to get him. He was humble, he was cheerful, he was kind. Not only have I ever heard him raise his voice, I've never heard that he ever raised his voice. His calm demeanor, full of caring, was a steady hand that guided us through high school. We always invited him to our reunions, and he always attended. When he arrived he was mobbed like a rock star--"there's Mr. Popp!" We love him. In fact, when my son was born, Mr. Popp's house was one of the first I took him to outside of direct family.
Eventually it was time for Mr. Popp to cut back on work. He started working at the district's alternative school, serving in the teacher/counselor role. Students attend the alternative school one day a week, perhaps for an hour, and they do so for a variety of reasons--and Mr. Popp shepherded those students for many years. In August 2013 he was given an award by the California Student Aid Commission for his decades of service to students. He has a large extended family, and many of them were there. So was I, and the high school principal he taught math with back in the 50s:
The following picture is from our 25th reunion. I include it to point out one of those "it's a small world" moments. Mr. Popp had been a math teacher, when the picture was taken I was a math teacher, and I currently teach the son of one of my classmates in the picture. He's good at math, but I don't get the sense he wants to be a math teacher :-(
Yes, I'd just gotten out of the pool. And the baby in the picture is now a teenager.
The last picture is from 2 1/2 years ago, the last time I went to his house:
My dad and his wife go to church with the Popps. Members of the church are signing up to take meals over to Mrs. Popp, and my dad's wife signed up for Sunday. She doesn't drive anymore, so guess who's delivering.
By the way, have you noticed that I still refer to him as "Mr. Popp"? Decades ago he gave up trying to get me to address him by his first name. I couldn't do it then, and I can't do it now. I was offered a job at the alternative high school when he taught there--we'd have worked together had I taken it. And I still would have addressed him as Mr. Popp. Such respect was earned.
*sigh* Mr. Popp was my counselor, my mentor, and my friend. He played such an outsized role in my life. I'm going to miss him tremendously.