In this short column, I won’t be able to cover the many tendrils of influence Lou Kallery bestowed on his pupils during his tenure as a teacher at Liberty Bell High School where he taught English to countless graduates from 1989-2005. In any case, the ranks, and profiles of the generation of students that came from Lou’s span include an impressive lot ranging in fields from corporate executives, creatives in film, art, and music, naval heroes, world-class athletes and coaches, to small business owners and operators, to dedicated mothers and fathers here in the valley.
Lou passed away during the height of the pandemic, rendering a public gathering to memorialize him unavailable and denying the opportunity for his former students and colleagues to reflect collectively on his life and teachings. But, over the past few weeks, a tribute in the form of a book memorial sprang to life in what is now being known as the “Lou Kallery Book Giveaway.”
When Anna (Kallery) Vintin began sorting through an accumulated lifetime of literature by her father, an avid scholar of all genres ranging from philosophy, fables, folklore and poetry, she knew the collection needed to be put in the hands of those whose lives he’d touched. In her words, many of his books were “stuff in the margins and that’s where he found inspiration and taught from.” She noted, “he was a formative and influential teacher for lots of valley children and gave them tools for life to succeed in whatever path they followed.”
Anna passed the idea onto family friend and former student Devin Barnhardt who then recruited classmate Sage Bannick to orchestrate the great book giveaway. Sage slowly began spreading word and visited the valley last week where he connected with past grads at the farmer’s market or at popular gathering hubs like the Branding Iron and the Carlton Hole. He delivered on the promise to put the books into the hands and minds of people who would honor Lou’s gift of free thought. There was one stipulation: each recipient needed to be photographed with their book so that Anna could have a visual record of who received what book, a sort of personalized card catalog.
His former students were thrilled to receive a book and shared insights about Lou.
• In the words of Michael “Bird” Shaffer, a world-class extreme skier from Poorman Creek, who once stood up at a school board meeting in defense of Lou’s teaching amid threats to fire him over his somewhat unconventional style: “If it wasn’t for Lou, what would we do?” Lou pushed students into “taking that step from the known world to the unknown world, and knowing all along if I follow my heart, there will be help in the dark, and what I find to bring back can help change the world.”
• Retired Operations Specialist Senior Chief Petty Officer Paul Reynolds of the U.S. Navy had this to say: “Lou Kallery gave me the greatest gift I never knew I needed. Growing up in an isolated valley I had no idea what the world had instore for me. Lou did, and he knew that we needed a very special tool to navigate the world outside … he gifted me my greatest treasure … critical thinking. This small, bearded man is a giant hero in my life’s story.”
• Video game designer Ryan Ebenger appreciated Lou for his demands to make his students engage in class, and credits him for opening the possibility to a creative career. “By aggressively introducing me to the language of story, Lou made it feel possible that I could work in entertainment one day.”
• Luc Reynaud, singer and songwriter, reflected that Lou’s classroom was “a space of great discovery for me, where I could ponder new things and travel new places often inspired by his great questions. He would push me to think deeper and about a subject circling around it with more questions … like digging for gems. I would come out of his classroom rich inside.”
Perhaps it was Lou’s insistence to “rewrite, rewrite, rewrite” as Anna noted. From her perspective, Lou’s lasting legacy was that he taught kids “to strive beyond what you perceive your limitations are, be open minded, think rationally and be circumspect.”
There are still books available for giveaway to former students and treasured friends or colleagues. Find Sage Bannick on Facebook to get your Lou Kallery book!