NASHUA — During his 30 years of teaching English and drama, Walter Heinhold touched the lives of generations of students and fellow teachers, and on Saturday his contributions and big personality were celebrated at a memorial service at Nashua High South.
Heinhold, 56, died unexpectedly on Feb. 6, and teachers, students and staff leaned on one another last week as they coped with the loss. On Saturday, he was remembered with music, photographs and stories that captured the some of what he brought to Nashua schools.
"Today is a day about storytelling and the human experience," Nashua South English teacher Susan Rourke told several hundred friends and fans who turned out for the service.
Rourke said Heinhold's ability to share stories through theater, film and everyday conversations in the hallways was legendary.
"He really did remind us that all the world's a stage," she said. "He lived it every day."
Art teacher Robin Peringer said Heinhold used his quick and sarcastic sense of humor to hide the fact that he was really nothing but nice.
She recalled talking to Heinhold about a disagreement his daughter, Kaleigh, was having with Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Seusing, who was then principal at Nashua South.
Seusing used to hang some of the life studies and nude figure drawings from art classes in her office to avoid any controversy at the school's public art gallery. Kaleigh Heinhold was considering lying naked on Seusing's desk to get her attention.
"That's my girl," Heinhold told Peringer, who looking back at that moment, wasn't too surprised by his response.
Almost everyone called him Heinhold, but to Seusing, Heinhold was always Walter.
"And he called me Jen-n-n," said Seusing giving the last letter in her name a couple of extra beats. "Did you know Jen could have three syllables?"
Seusing said Heinhold brought a taste of Broadway to the Nashua South stage. For years, he was the director of the school's drama club.
She recalled watching a rehearsal for drama club's production of "Twelve Angry Men," and seeing one of the student actors pull out a large knife and slam it into the table.
Seusing said she panicked at the sight of the prop, and told Heinhold that the combination of students, a knife and a school would get them both fired.
"He told me, 'It's just theater, Jen-n-n,'" said Seusing, adding that the show went on in Heinhold style.
"I absolutely loved what he did for our students, our school and our staff," said Suesing. "What Walter brought out of our students was amazing and astonishing and that is his legacy."
Kaleigh Heinhold spoke about her dad, and to him directly.
"You are the reason I am this much of a nerd," she laughed. "I promise I won't refuse my call to adventure."
As people recalled their relationships and moments with Heinhold, photos of the teacher were flashing on a large screen on the stage. Musician, author and educator Don White performed the songs, "Great Big Heart" and "Sense of Humor" as part of the tribute.
Students described how Heinhold had influenced them both in school and beyond. As a drama director and a public speaking teacher, Heinhold empowered students with a skills to communicate confidently and effectively.
For many, Heinhold was a mentor who helped them find their footing in life and grow into adulthood.
Rosie Flanagan said that without Heinhold and drama club, she would be a very shy person.
"I'm still weird," she laughed "But now, I'm with a bunch of kids who like Shakespeare."
In addition to those who spoke at the service, students and friends lined up to share their thoughts in a memory book. And it wasn't just current students. People who have sat in Heinhold's classes decades ago, came back to honor the teacher who had a lasting impact on their lives.
"It's never easy to lose a family member, friend, colleague and teacher," said Keith Richard, principal at Nashua High South. "Walter will be missed, but the lasting impressions that he left with us will see us through."