Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2004

Popular teacher found dead

April 22, 2004

Perhaps the most liked teacher among students and faculty at Basehor-Linwood High School, was found dead at his Edwardsville home Wednesday morning.

John Thornton, known affectionately by generations of students from the high school as "J.T.", taught government, history and contemporary issues in the Basehor-Linwood School District for 27 years. He was 54 years old.

"He was probably as popular a teacher as there is here and deservedly so," said Don Swartz, school district director of building operations. "He cared very much about the kids. People here are handling this as well as can be expected. He will be greatly missed."

School officials grew concerned Wednesday morning when they learned Thornton was not in his classroom by the time classes began.

"He didn't show up for work or call in," Swartz said. "That was very unusual for him. J.T. was always the first one here in the morning. That really alarmed some of his fellow teachers."

High school teacher Scott Neil and athletic director Joe Keeler went to Thornton's home and found him dead at approximately 8:15 a.m.

Edwardsville police said they were not releasing any information.

School officials told high school students and faculty what happened to their teacher and colleague at approximately 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Counselors came to the high school Wednesday and were available to grieving students and faculty members.

The counselors will be available as long as needed, high school principal Steve Blankenship said.

"They'll definitely be here for the rest of he week," Blankenship said.

Some type of remembrance service will take place at the high school, Blankenship said, but he had no specifics on how the high school would honor its fallen teacher.

"Some of the staff have been talking about ways to remember him but there isn't anything definite as of yet," the principal said. "I'm sure we'll do something, we just don't know what right now. Just getting through the day has been tough enough."

Thornton served in public education for 33 years. He began teaching in 1971, in Great Bend, and later moved on to teach at Wyandotte High School for five years.

He was hired as a teacher in Basehor-Linwood in 1977. He also coached football, basketball, wrestling and track.

Students remember Thornton as a great teacher who didn't mind giving his students some good-natured ribbings.

"I had him for seminar class and he always made fun of me," said Lindsay Cunningham, a 2003 BLHS graduate. "He was really funny, but that was just him. He made fun of everyone for everything anytime he could. But you could always tell he still cared."

Noah Simpson, a 1999 BLHS graduate, is one of few people to know Thornton as both student and colleague. Simpson is in his first year as a teacher at the high school and credits Thornton as a major influence in his life.

"One of the main reasons I took the job here was because I'd have a chance to teach beside him," Simpson said.

"He was loved by a lot of people, teachers and students. He was a great guy. A really great guy."

Funeral arrangements are pending, but are tentatively scheduled for Saturday at the Sillin Funeral Home, 214 W. Avenue South, in Lyons, Kan.

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