Over the years as a journalist, I've had the occasion to report on triumphs and tragedies. The triumphs are much more enjoyable, I assure you, but the tragedies, no matter how sad, how devastating, must be reported as well.
To that end, I find myself feeling hurt and sad along with so many in the area, over the tragic loss of Ron Menneke in a traffic accident Monday morning. Mr. Menn, as he was known at Emmetsburg High School, taught mathematics primarily to freshmen and sophomores. For most students, me included back in the day, math wasn't on my top-10 list of favorites. But, over the years, I've heard countless stories of Mr. Menn demonstrating a Taekwondo form during class to illustrate a point, or doing a "happy dance" when some student would bring treats for the class. For a teacher to leave that kind of memory with students who have moved on in life says a lot about that educator.
Mr. Menneke was accorded the rank of Master in the art of Taekwondo, an accomplishment and honor he worked hard to achieve in his too-short lifetime. He shared his love of the art with countless area residents through classes that he taught in Emmetsburg over the years, as well as in his hometown of Whittemore. On numerous occasions I photographed him in action, performing board-breaks for fund-raising events, a demonstration of how the mind and spirit can work together through discipline to create an inner strength.
The word of his death shocked the students and staff at Emmetsburg High School on Monday morning. Administrators immediately called in counselors and clergy to assist the students in their grieving. Posts on Facebook quickly began spreading the word, and alumni of EHS who had Mr. Menneke for classes were quick to log on and express their shock at the loss. One current high school student posted a most poignant observation: "I've never seen so many people cry at once in my life."
I had to make a trip to the high school late on Monday morning and wasn't quite ready for what I saw. Several students were gathered in a hallway, nobody talking, just sitting in a small group, comforting each other. A counselor was talking quietly in a corner with another student, eyes downcast, trying hard not to cry as he twisted a tissue in his hands.
There was an almost surreal silence in the building. On a normal day, there is noise not a roar, but a soft sort of murmur; teachers lecturing in their classrooms, students passing in the hallways, but not Monday morning.
By Monday afternoon, a Facebook page in Menneke's honor had over 100 responses and likes, former students, current students and colleagues expressing their thoughts and feelings about a husband, father, educator and friend.
As an educator, Ron Menneke worked hard to make sure his students were as best prepared for life in the subject area he taught, but he also taught lessons about character and discipline, offshoots of his Taekwondo training. Now, his fellow educators have to try and teach the most difficult life lesson dealing with the death of someone.
We are told there are five stages of grief: The first stage is Denial "There must me some mistake it couldn't be Mr. Menneke!"
The second stage is Anger: "Why Mr. Menneke?"
The third stage is Bargaining: "If he'd have come down the road a couple of minutes later, it wouldn't have happened."
The fourth stage is Depression: "Mr. Menneke is gone and I didn't get to tell him how much I liked him."
The fifth stage of grief is Acceptance: "He touched the lives of so many people that he will always be remembered, and never forgotten."
Everyone grieves differently, and such will be the case in the days and weeks to come. All we can do as a community is to cherish the memories of someone who left us far too soon, and remember that he would encourage everyone to live each day to the fullest, because, after all, one never knows