Tom Turner: Father of soccer & beloved teacher
Longtime teacher and coach Tom Turner, 59, touched many lives in the Quincy Valley, pouring his heart into the small farming community.
“He wasn’t just a teacher or a friend,” said former player and current assistant soccer coach Francisco Tafoya. “He was like a father figure. I’m sure a lot of the other guys felt the same way.”
Turner passed away Jan. 2 after a 14-month battle with brain cancer. A memorial service for the beloved community member is planned for 2 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Quincy High School.
On Tuesday, his wife of 36 years, Dena Turner, said her husband was someone who always put others first.
“He made a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” Dena said. “It was just his smile and his compassion toward others.”
Dena spoke of meeting her husband for the first time when she was a sophomore in high school. Tom, who was three years older than her, was home on leave. He was a cook in the U.S. Navy, serving on a submarine. She spotted him from afar in his Navy blues.
“I told my girlfriend I was going to marry him,” she said.
The couple moved to the area in 1997 when Tom started teaching special education at Quincy High School. When asked what her husband would have been most proud of, Dena said it would have been the work he did to make sure special education students were included in the general student population.
“I think he was really proud of the notion of inclusion for students,” Dena said.
Tom was known for being a teacher who did not limit his students to ordinary classroom work; with a goal of preparing his students for life after high school, he gave his students real-world experience in unique ways.
Perhaps the most memorable activity occurred each November when Tom guided his students through the preparation of a Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Tom then invited members of the community, teachers and administrators into his classroom to enjoy the feast.
“He really enjoyed getting the kids involved and inviting the community and staff,” co-worker Jeanne Gates said. “We walked downtown as a class and shopped. We spent the day chopping, preparing and cooking.”
Gates said the Thanksgiving dinner was something Tom looked forward to every year.
“It was totally him,” she said.
Every holiday, he also walked his students downtown to put up Christmas lights.
“The kids all got to help with that,” Gates said. “He provided most of the (lights).”
Tom’s dedication to his work is legendary at the high school, said Bill Alexander, QHS athletic director.
For years Alexander’s car was the first in the parking lot every morning, he said. When Tom joined the staff, it was his car in the parking lot first many mornings, Alexander said.
“He’s almost a legend here at the school,” Alexander said of his close friend.
Along with impacting students in the classroom, Tom also coached cross country and was the father of the QHS boys soccer program.
Tom was the first varsity boys soccer coach, taking over the duties after Gary Klepec coached the first team in 1999 under a junior varsity schedule. Tom took over in 2000 and guided the Jacks to a dozen post season tournaments, six state appearances and two state trophies.
In his tenure, he led the team to third place in 2003 and fourth place in 2008. He also amassed nearly a 70 percent winning percentage and piled up 168 career wins for an overall record of 168-86-12.
Some would say that’s an impressive record for a guy who knew nothing about soccer on the day he accepted the challenge to coach.
“He just took the challenge and got things going for us,” Tafoya said. “He said, ‘No one else has the courage, but I do.'”
Tom was not known for being a quiet coach; he did his fair share of giving his opinion to referees, coaches and players. But it was always about his players, Tafoya said.
“At the end of all that yelling and screaming you heard, he cared not just about the program, but each individual player,” Tafoya said.
What Tom did not know about the game of soccer, he made up for in his ability to get the best out of his players. Tafoya knows first hand, as his senior year the Jacks placed fourth at state.
“When the time was right he gave good advice,” said Tafoya. “He was the best motivational speaker when we needed to get our butts in gear.”
At times, Tom blended his coaching and teaching styles. In the midst of a post season chase in April 2013, Tom decided to give one of his former special education students a memorable experience.
Jonathan Van Dyke, who has Down syndrome, had been a part of the team for a couple of years. So Turner, along with his varsity players, thought it was time for Van Dyke to play varsity. The Pioneers of Omak agreed.
Van Dyke entered the game, took a shot and scored to help Quincy win 6-3. Van Dyke celebrated by giving the Pioneer goalie a high-five.
“He jumped around and high-fived everybody,” Tom said in a story printed in the QVPR. “Our team, their team and the referee.”
The Jacks went on to claim a portion of the league title at 12-2 in league and 16-4 overall.
Recently, when Alexander sent a text to the family, telling of the recent decision to pursue a unified soccer team this spring that will be made up of special and general education students, Dena read it to Tom, who had started to slip away. Tom pushed for years to allow special education students to play a larger role in school sports, she said.
“It really meant something to the kids and I, because I know he would have been so proud of that,” Dena said. “That would have meant the world to Tom.”
Tom is survived by his wife as well as their four children, Melissa, Nicholas, Laura and Jacqueline, and a granddaughter, Adrianne.
— By Kurtis J. Wood, email@example.com