The lifetime of a person can be defined in many ways.
For Lynda Luce, perhaps the best way to define her life is that she was a teacher.
“She was old school in that she believed her being centered around her profession. She was a teacher, regardless of where she was,” said Pat Phair, who for 30-some years taught English with Luce at Waupaca High School.
On Tuesday, Sept. 4, the first day of school, he and others shared their memories of Luce, who passed away Friday, Aug. 31.
She was 59 and had retired at the end of this past school year, full of plans for the future. A cancer diagnosis soon followed.
Luce taught communications at WHS and was also the forensics coach.
Phair said she spent thousands of nights at school, helping her students individually, not only with forensics but with English.
For her, teaching was not something she did from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. – it was what she did 24/7, he said.
“I loved Lyn Luce,” Phair said. “I thought she was a wonderful teacher. She was a great friend. She served the district and high school exceptionally well for all these years.”
As the first day of school began, teachers talked to the students in their homerooms about the passing of Luce.
“I’ve started the school year 38 years. It’s a little difficult this year losing a co-worker so quickly. You might notice a little difference this morning and the next few days,” Phair told the students in his homeroom.
WHS Principal Rob Becker said all of the teachers at the high school began the first day in homeroom that same way.
Last Friday, the staff was brought together for a meeting in the school’s media center.
The staff had the option of being at school either Thursday or Friday, and about one-third of the staff was there on Friday.
Becker, who received a call from Luce’s husband Paul around 7:30 a.m. on Friday, waited until about 8 a.m. to call the staff together to tell them.
“Then, we activated our phone tree to make sure everyone knew. I also sent out a note,” Becker said.
Counselors were available for the staff on Friday and are available for students.
The district’s psychologist and social worker were both at the high school on Tuesday, with the district’s other guidance counselors on call.
Becker said most of the students who knew Luce learned of her death on Friday and that a list of her forensics students was shared with all of the teachers so that they could watch for any signs of students needing to talk to someone.
“Grief is a process. We will help our students work through that,” he said.
When Becker joined the district a year ago, he said Luce was a veteran member of the staff who had worked with many administrators in the past.
He described her as being very gracious to him. “We connected quickly. She was a great person. I saw her several times over the summer. She called me last week and asked me to come over,” he said.
District Administrator David Poeschl said, “Mrs. Lyn Luce meant so much to the students, staff and community, and she will be missed. Waupaca High School has developed a great reputation across the country for the quality of our forensics program, and this is a testament to Mrs. Luce’s dedication to student success.
“Mrs. Lyn Luce’s influence on students, staff and our community for the past 31 years means her legacy will continue in the hearts and minds of so many of us. Her students and colleagues understood her passion for teaching and learning. She taught us well.”
Nancy Cummings teaches English at WHS and said, “I am in awe of the impact Lyn Luce has made locally, statewide and nationally in the realm of education and forensics . She lived her life with a passion, and all who knew her sensed that.
“She inspired me, made me laugh and taught me what it means to be a student advocate. She set high expectations for her students yet she made learning fun in her classroom and for her forensics team.
“As a parent of two forensics students, I am forever grateful for the opportunities she made available to them and the confidence she instilled in their character. She has left a deep void not only among her family members and friends, but in the hearts of many Waupaca High School students and staff members.”
Cummings’ son Eric is a senior at WHS.
He and fellow senior Cassie Menadue will be the captains of this year’s forensics team.
Both students were in Luce’s communications class during their freshman year and also became members of the forensics team that year.
“She was really a great communicator,” he said. “As a coach, I got to know her on a more personal basis.”
He remembers doing terribly at his first forensics meet and how she consoled him afterward. He took second at his next meet.
“I’ll always remember her laugh, first and foremost, and really, what a great person and coach she was to her students and how she helped grow forensics in the school.”
Menadue, who first went out for forensics as a middle school student, said Luce motivated her students.
“She kind of became like my second mom,” she said. “If you needed help, she was always there. If you did bad in a tournament, she said, ‘Don’t worry. You will do better next time.”
It is because of Luce that Menadue had decided to become a communications teacher and forensics coach.
This school year, Menadue will be a teaching assistant in the communications classes.
Of course, for Menadue, there is one other way in which she will remember Luce.
“She’s always, always wear something green, whether it was her shoes or a necklace she had,” Menadue said. “She’d always incorporate green into her outfit.”
Green was Luce’s favorite color, and each March, there was an annual “green” forensics tournament.
The high school’s Performing Arts Center will be full of the color green on Saturday, Sept. 8.
A celebration of Luce’s life will be held, with a visitation from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by a service.
Those who attend are asked to wear the green.
Ron Steinhorst, who worked with Luce as WHS’s assistant forensics coach, will give the eulogy.
“We go back to when I was a coach and she was a still a student in Milwaukee,” he said.
Steinhorst taught in New London for 42 years and worked with Luce in hosting the National Catholic Forensics League tournaments in Oshkosh in 1994 and in Appleton in 2008.
After Steinhorst retired in 2004, he continued coaching forensics there for two years and then took a year off before hosting the 2008 tournament with Luce.
“Then, I thought I was done,” he said.
When Gwen Pfeiffer-Young retired as the assistant forensics coach at WHS, Luce asked Steinhorst if he wanted to coach with her.
In 2009, Steinhorst came on board as the assistant.
“She was such a wonderful person to work with,” he said. “This has been a very tough experience to deal with. It came so suddenly. She had all these grandiose plans, including us coaching together.”
Steinhorst visited Luce several times last week.
“She was still coming up with ideas for the kids,” he said. “We laughed and chuckled and giggled.”
In the forensics world, Luce was known not only throughout the state but throughout the nation.
Steinhorst also said that after Hurricane Katrina, Luce came up with the idea of a fund for the forensics students and coaches who were in need.
“We call if the ‘Past President’s Club of the Forensics League'” he said. “That was one of her big concerns – that it keep going. One of the requests is that the memorial be directed toward that.”
Steinhorst, too, said that when it came to Luce, “everything was always green.”
He said Luce was bubbly, vivacious and magnetic.
“She was able to connect with so many kids and pull them into the forensics world. She saw the potential in them,” Steinhorst said.
He also said she had many opinions, which not everyone agreed with but that resulted in good discussions.
“She’s just going to be a real loss as far as the students are concerned. She was just a dear, dear friend,” he said.
WHS English teacher Tim Koll said Luce was a true friend.
“She was a passionate advocate for her forensics kids, but she was also, on a personal note, always genuinely concerned.”
Amy Mead also teaches English at the high school and said, “I will really miss Lyn. She was a great mentor and friend. When I first started teaching, I taught in Lyn’s room for a couple hours each day. As I made all of my rookie mistakes right in front of this veteran teacher, Lyn was always so kind and supportive.”
Mead said Luce was an excellent teacher who always wanted the best for her students.
“She truly loved teaching- -she loved kids. Lyn was passionate about helping students find confidence in themselves,” Mead said.
She said that Luce was the type of person who could find humor in almost every situation.
“I will miss hearing her laughter roll down the hallway,” Mead said. “Family was so important to Lyn. She was incredibly proud of her kids, Kate and Mike, and was always ready to share a Lucy (her grandaughter) story accented with the latest pictures stored on her cellphone.”
Luce also made an impact in local theater.
John Kelley, chairman of Waupaca Community Theater, said, “I had the privilege of not only working with Lyn as a Waupaca Community Theatre Board member but also of watching her share her talents as director, actress, singer and producer.
“Upon returning from New York in 2001, I played in the pit orchestra for the WCT production of ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ which Lyn directed.
“I was impressed by her skill as a director, but Lyn really shined more recently with ‘Beauty & The Beast’ by bringing a truly captivating, large-scale, high-quality production to this small community. With Lyn at the helm and her husband Paul conducting the pit, those two made quite a team.
“Lyn was integral in the development of the WCT from its early years to what it is today, and in 2006, with Gwen Pfeiffer-Young, instituted the Waupaca Community Children’s Theatre as an offshoot of the WCT with the idea of providing children with the inspiration and opportunity to discover the world of theatre she so much loved and enjoyed.”