Joel Max Kabatznick '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

South Main Street, Westbrook, Conn.
Prepared at Middletown High School
Phi Delta Sigma, Rushing Chairman
Football "1962", Wrestling 1,2,3,4.
Masquers. Squire of the Pit.

Joel Max Kabatznick '62 died November 25, 1995.
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In Memory

Joel's sister writes that Joel died November 25, 1995 while residing and teaching in Alaska. He is dearly missed!

And she has also written the following remembrance --

Joel Max Kabatznick lived his life with the exuberance of an actor, the intellect of a mathematician, the creativeness of a writer and the zest of a wrestler, in other words, his passions. He taught at the American Schools in Rome, Italy; Katmandu, Nepal; Bangkok Thailand; Cairo, Egypt; and Kinshasa, Zaire with his wife Aurelie. They finally settled in Alaska where he taught at Wasilla High School and raised their son Paul.

Tributes to him can still be found on the internet from former students. His students remember him for his eccentric behavior, bizarre taste in clothes, genuine interest in his students, and unique teaching style. Joel knew the importance of laughter and utilized it in his classes, often at his own expense. As one student said "He was a true gem and one of a kind…He advocated on his students behalf always and related to us as a friend not an authority figure".

Joel’s memorial in Alaska was attended by almost all of his students. They said that one of Joel’s greatest gifts to them was his belief in praise rather than criticism. Three of his favorite words were "you are good" and I find myself using them today.

His struggle with MS never deterred him from his passion for teaching and living.

A former student of his --Rebecca Lopez --- adds the following remembrance ------

Joel Kabatznick is a hero to many, he was loved and adored by his students. I was his student from 1983-1985 and consider him a huge influence in my life.

His home was always opened to his students. We danced around the house when his infant son would reach some milestone, and his wife would make pizza and popcorn for us. It was a warm, happy environment that so many of his students lacked at home.

He passed away in 1995 from complications due to M.S., my understanding is that he continued to teach almost to his last breath.

Even today, over ten years later, writing this, is very emotional for me. I wish my own children could have known him.

He was a crazy man who smoked cigars, ate raw garlic, wore these crazy ties, and would do the most outlandish things in class to get our attention We loved him and we miss him.

From Our Reunion Book

This remembrance is an attempt to expand on---but is no substitute for---the poetic summary offered by Joel's sister on our website [above].

Joel left us in November 1995, of complications due to multiple sclerosis. At the time he was teaching English and journalism at Mat-su Alternative High School in Wasilla, Alaska. struggling with extreme difficulty to make it to class using a cane, the symbol of his defiance.

His first MS symptoms appeared shortly after graduation from Amherst, and they must have been especially cruel for someone who at Amherst had shown so much athletic determination. He fought the increasing impairment as best he could, shrugging it off in his conversations with others as the effect of an old football injury, and not receiving confirmation of its being MS until the early 1990's. He never let his condition interfere with his passion for life and for teaching.

After Amherst, where he majored in Math, wrestled for four years, played football for one, and was a very successful actor, Joel got an MAT in English at Harvard. He then started his career teaching English and coaching wrestling at Wellesley High School, in Wellesley, MA. While teaching at Wellesley he met his wife, Aurelie, and they were married in 1969. Their wedding photo shows Joel already using a cane to get down the aisle.

After their marriage, Joel and Aurelie launched an international adventure, both getting jobs teaching at American and international schools abroad. They taught in Rome 1970-72, Katmandu 1972-75, took a sabbatical on Patmos island in Greece 1975-76, taught in Kinshasha 1976-78, Cairo 1978-80, and Bangkok 1980-82. Joel taught English, Math, Drama, and coached when he could.

Then in 1983 they chose a different adventure, settling in Wasilla, Alaska, where they adopted and raised their son Paul, and where Joel taught until his death.

The tape of Joel's memorial service in Wasilla is extraordinary. The service is very large, somewhat offbeat, and very long. Instead of offering flowers at Joel's casket, mourners offered wildly-colored, loosely knotted ties, adding to a pile of Joel's own ties that was already quite high--a tribute to Joel's outrageous attire. Tapes were shown at the service of Joel giving his annual, riotous send-off to the graduating class, and of other classic Kabatznick performances. The service was very long primarily because of all the people who felt compelled to come forward and relate how good Joel had been to them. One described how he hated English until he met Joel, after which he loved it, and ended up sometimes coming to Joel's class twice in one day. A couple of troubled students, barely articulate and very ill-at-ease before the crowd, described how Joel had reached out to them. A fellow parishioner (Joel had converted to Catholicism with Aurelie's encouragement) spoke of how wonderful Joel was in church, and how dramatic were his readings, his almost shouting out "Amen!". Mat-su's Principal spoke of Joel's wondrous capacity for love, for being positive, describing Joel as the "Michael Jordan of Happiness." Joel's son Paul spoke, with tremendous poise for an eleven-year-old. He recounted Joel crawling along the beach after an extremely high tide, retrieving stranded starfish and tossing them back into the water. Paul told Joel, "It's a waste of time, there are too many". Joel responded that those he could save did not think it was a waste of time. (Paul is now following Joel's footsteps to pursue a teaching career.). People kept coming. Finally the priest said, "This is amazing.. I've never had people share like this before... We just have time for one more."

Fortunately on the web there is no time limit, and people continue to share. The best example is two years ago, when a student Joel had at the International School in Bangkok (ISB) found our Amherst website notice of Joel's death, and posted the following remembrance on an ISB website ---

Mr. Joel Kabatznick was seriously one of the most unique and memorable teachers and one of my most favorite in all of my educational experiences. He was an excellent teacher and taught and ran the Theater Arts department @ ISB. He was a bit of an eccentric and always wore clothing that did not match. I think he was either color-blind or he just had different taste in clothing.... He had a real down-to-earth way of relating to all the kids on the campus. He was the "COOL TEACHER". There was not one kid that didn't like him. He was a true gem and a one-of-a-kind. He was entirely responsible for both my brothers and myself becoming interested and involved in the theater program and participating in the school plays. Mr. Kabatznick was the kind of teacher who made learning a fun and positive experience. He advocated on his students behalf always and related to us as a friend not an authority figure. He mentored and counseled us when we got in trouble at school or sent up to Mrs. Boonaug's office as well. I will never forget the time when he found my mom at Scott's graduation and simply walked over and said nothing and sat down right in her lap and put his arms around her, giving her a huge hug and a kiss. He always had good things to say about others. I don't ever remember hearing anything coming out of his mouth that was mean or negative. It was absolutely a crazy, funny, and bold move on his part and he was someone who would carry out off-the-wall crazy stuff and make people laugh. He taught so many of us about the importance of having laughter in our lives. I was truly very saddened to hear about his passing on the website. I was hoping to be able to find him and just thank him from the bottom of my heart for all the great experiences we had @ ISB.

May God Rest His Soul. He was an awesome person and for someone with his accomplishments he was very graciously humble.


---Craig Morgan '62 with Katrina Fortner and Joyce Kabatznick Medeiros

Joel at ISB
Teaching at the International School in Bangkok, Circa 1982

Joel,  Paul,  Mom
Joel, Paul, and Mom, at Joel's Niece's Wedding, Summer of 1995