On May 18, 2018, hundreds of Belinder Elementary students, parents and teachers packed into the school’s gymnasium to watch beloved 2nd grade teacher Larry Martin’s star turn as the champion of the Jeopardy Teachers Tournament.
A year to the day later, the gym was packed again — this time to celebrate the life of the man who taught hundreds of Shawnee Mission kids, leaving an indelible mark over a career that spanned nearly three decades at the school.
A cancer diagnosis forced Martin to step away from the classroom early this school year. On Jan. 25, the Belinder community learned he had passed away.
The celebration of life on Saturday included remembrances from Deegan Poores, a former student who described how Martin’s ability to connect with kids and encourage them to follow their dreams had a lasting positive influence more than a decade later. Poores showed off the caricature Martin had drawn for him at the end of his 2nd grade year — a gift he gave to literally every student he had, personalized to highlight their interests and talents.
“Not only did he make teaching fun and interesting for hundreds of restless 2nd graders, he was part of many loving experiences that are so important to kids at that age,” he said.
Former Belinder Principal Karen Faucher, who hired Martin for the job he would occupy for nearly 30 years, recalled the day a couple of years into his time at the school that he pitched the idea of The Marvel News, a school newspaper that his young students would be responsible for producing. She admits she was skeptical at first.
“Midway through the conversation I had to stop and say, ‘Larry, you are teaching 2nd grade next year – 7 and 8 year olds,’” she said. “He felt in the creation of a newspaper, every student could contribute. Every student was accountable for their unique contribution. Every student would have a part in the production. But most importantly, every student could be proud of the final product. Well, you know the outcome. They all became newsies, hocking The Marvel News, just 10 cents an issue. Martin’s Marvels learned lifelong lessons through the publication of their newspaper. Over the years, parents, staff, students and the greater community looked forward to each issue.”
The eulogy at the celebration was delivered by Martin’s nephew Kevin Butterfield, a renowned historical scholar who serves at the executive director of the George Washington Presidential Library at Mt. Vernon. Butterfield recalled the special connection he shared with his uncle, the close conversations they would have at family gatherings, and the love of lifelong learning that Martin inspired in him. Butterfield landed a spot as a contestant on Jeopardy prior to his uncle — but walked away a second place finisher. Of Martin’s champion performance in the Jeopardy Teachers Tournament last year, Butterfield said the game gave him a chance to apply all of the knowledge his curious mind had sucked up over the years.
“He loved to learn. He loved to explore the world, know the world. And he loved to learn about the people next to him,” Butterfield said. “It’s a model, I think, for all of us to hold close in our own lives.”
As Belinder Principal Steve Yeoman noted, “Larry was honestly one of the best teachers and people that we’ll have the pleasure to know.”