Dec. 11, 2013
By Tara Cavanaugh
Rick Dekeon’s memorial included floor hockey, fajitas, and dozens upon dozens of visitors.
“We decided he would want a positive event, because he was very positive. This is kind of a celebration of his life,” said Dekeon’s longtime partner Michelle Hart.
Hart organized the memorial with Dekeon’s family. It was held on Dec. 8 at Northside Elementary, where Dekeon taught physical education for 25 years.
Dekeon passed away on Nov. 8 of cancer. He was 55.
Dekeon’s enthusiasm for students kept him busy in the community. He coached kids’ sports teams through Rec&Ed for over 40 years; he also coached Huron’s jayvee and varsity soccer for four and six years, respectively.
At Northside, he organized morning and evening floor hockey. He played upbeat music in his gym classes and was known for being supportive.
“He was more than a good friend to me –– he was a mentor,” said Rob Meyer, Dicken Elementary’s gym teacher. “He taught me so much. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today if it wasn’t for Rick.”
“He was always there for the parents and kids,” said Susan Pietropaolo, a parent of a current and former Northside student. “He really was a gem. There was nobody else like him.”
“His energy, enthusiasm, and love of helping children was at the heart of everything he did for our students,” said Mitchell Elementary Principal Kevin Karr, who worked with Dekeon for 14 years at Northside.
Dekon’s influence was recognized in the Ann Arbor community and beyond. In 2003 the AAPS Board of Education gave him a Celebration of Excellence Award, and in 2008 the Michigan Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance named him Teacher of the Year.
Dekeon, a highly visible presence in the schools, also quietly supported students in need.
“There were many times where, if a kid didn’t have soccer shoes, he would buy those,” Hart said. “If a student couldn’t pay for Rec&Ed soccer, he would either make sure they’d get a scholarship or he’d write a check of his own. He delivered groceries to families that needed them. He would buy clothes for kids.
“He wasn’t a self-promoter,” Hart said. “Most people don’t know that stuff about him.”
But it was clear that many people felt Dekeon was a special teacher. Hundreds of paper feet, filled in with drawings and students’ memories of Dekeon, lined the school’s walls on Sunday.
Northside students celebrated a “Rick Dekeon week” last week. Activities included an all-school walk and run on the route Dekeon took his cross country kids, playing Dekeon’s favorite music at lunchtime, and decorating the paper feet, which represented small plastic feet his cross country runners earned for each mile they ran.
“I don’t know if there’s anything he didn’t do for this community,” said Sherri Judkins, who works at Rec&Ed. “He was so much more than just a gym teacher.”