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'Courageous' Van Sickle loses battle with cancer

The Newton Kansan

'Courageous' Van Sickle loses battle with cancer

When Ray Van Sickle's name was announced at a year-end meeting of teachers the year he retired, he received a standing ovation from his peers. Van Sickle, then a history teacher at Santa Fe Middle School, had completed a more than 30-year career as a teacher - the final while fighting pancreatic cancer. 'Ray was so passionate about teaching and teaching social studies,' superintendent of schools John Morton said. 'And he was a fighter to the end. He was a courageous human being. We are all diminished when someone like that passes. It is diminishing for us all.'

Van Sickle, 56, died Sunday at his home. Public visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. today at Petersen Funeral Home in Newton, with the family receiving friends from 7 to 9 p.m.

A graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Cottonwood Cemetery in rural Emporia, and there will be a memorial service at 7 p.m. Thursday at Meridian Baptist Church in Newton.

Van Sickle retired after 32 years in the classroom - all at Santa Fe Middle School - in 2007. He learned the day before his final year in the classroom of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and missed all but a few weeks of the first semester of the 2006-07 school year.

But he returned the classroom, still wanting to teach.

'It's been a struggle coming back,' Van Sickle said in a 2007 interview with The Kansan. 'I pray for the strength to get through each day. Some days I go home and just crash.'

The man who, for the first 30 years of his career, was known for hardly ever missing a day of work has struggled to be in his classroom with his students.

'I have been fortunate,' he said. 'Pancreatic cancer is very deadly.'

Even after a year of fighting the disease, and struggling to get to school each day, retirement was difficult for a man who grew up on a family farm near Olpe.

'It's hard to think of not being able to come back into the building,' Van Sickle said. 'I have had a key for Santa Fe for 32 years.'

He estimated he taught between 3,500 and 4,000 students during a career that spanned three decades and as many subjects at the middle school level.

Van Sickle, twice nominated for 'Who's Who Among America's Teachers,' was named the state history day teacher of the year for the 2006-07 school year.

A fitting tribute for a man who Morton called the driving force behind History Day activities in the Newton district.

'Sometimes those unassuming people that work in the background, you don't know all they do,' Morton said. 'One of the first things he spoke to me about after I was hired was some history dioramas that had been a part of this district for almost forever. He was a driving force behind getting those displayed in a display case at Santa Fe.'

Following his retirement, Van Sickle was a regular at the Newton Farmer's Market - selling peppers and tomatoes from his garden.

But he will be most remembered by his students - who Van Sickle said last year will remember doing projects in his history classes.

'I was out to eat a couple months ago when one of my former students approached me,' Van Sickle said in 2007. 'He was in my class 25 years ago. He said he still had the project he did in the seventh grade.'

Owner/SourceHarvey County Genealogical Society
Date3 Sep 2008
Linked toRay Dean VanSickle

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