MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Sometimes the greatest challenges can teach us the greatest life lessons. This week’s Excellent Educator is living that right now.
Steve Lufkin has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a terminal disease that affects nerve cells and muscles.
When awarded, he thanked the students and staff at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights for encouraging him to keep doing what he loves: teaching.
“For everything that has been going on and for the support the school has shown me, it’s just overwhelming,” he said.
Lufkin’s ability to use his strength and courage to inspire others is what makes him this week’s Excellent Educator.
For 27 years, Lufkin has helped kids understand math. And along with the problems on the board, he’s helped them solve ones in their own lives.
“We all need someone in our lives who knows that they care about them, that they are there to support them and to be an ear and to listen,” he said.
That is what has made Lufkin unforgettable for so many former students, including a WCCO producer who had him more than a decade ago.
“I remember how he made me feel, conversations we had and all those good memories,” Tracy Perlman, a WCCO producer, said.
But now, his current students are witnessing Lufkin face a new problem that is unsolvable. Last year, he was diagnosed with ALS.
“It’s been a struggle but it also has been something that’s been a blessing. Mine isn’t progressing as fast as other people’s, and so I look at that and I’m still able to still teach which is exciting. I love doing that,” he said.
But the devastating disease is starting to take a toll physically.
“Correcting, it’s takes longer because my left hand doesn’t work and so I can’t turn pages,” Lufkin said.
Yet, just as fast as Lufkin stepped up for the kids, they’ve done the same for him.
“When I’ve needed to pass out papers or something they step up and they do it,” he said. “We’ve got some remarkable kids here.”
He’s chosen to continue to teach while battling his ALS deciding to turn his struggle into a teachable moment, even speaking publically about it on graduation day.
“My dream is for one of you to be the next researcher who finds a breakthrough for a treatment or a cure for ALS,” he told the graduating class of 2014.
Watching the disease progress has been emotion for both Lufkin and the students.
“What do you hope your students learn from you battling this disease,” WCCO’s Kim Johnson asked.
“I would hope that they can look at it and when adversity comes in their lives that they can know that there is support out there for them, they don’t have to battle it alone and there people there that will walk by their side, hold them up and get them through it,” he said.
Students and staff have also stepped up to raise awareness of ALS and money for research.
Last year students and staff from across the district participated in the ice bucket challenge in his honor. Additionally, they raised nearly $30,000 in another fundraiser part of which benefitted the ALS Therapy Development Institute.
As for how long he plans to teach, he says he’ll know he’s done teaching when he goes home and is too tired to spend time with his wife and kids.