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Kenai remembers favorite teacher Bob Summer

Bob Summer was a frequent climber of Skyline Trail. Above, he hikes it with his dog, Riley, in 2010.
Joseph Robertia
Redoubt Reporter
Bob Summer was a frequent climber of Skyline Trail. Above, he hikes it with his dog, Riley, in 2010.

If you were looking for Bob Summer, you would probably find him in one of three places.

“The three places that Bob spent the most time were Kenai Middle School, Kaladi Brothers Coffee and Skyline," said Kenai Middle School Vice Principal Ken Felchle.

Felchle worked with Summer for years, when he was the seventh grade history teacher at Kenai Middle and Summer taught eighth. And he said it was the same story every year.

“Always, seventh grade kids would come down to my class and they would go, ‘Oh, we miss you so much, we wish you would be our history teacher again.’ And, ‘Mr. Summer is so strict and we’re scared of him,’ and all these things," Felchle said. "And I’d just laugh and I would smile. And I would just say, ‘You just wait and see.’”

Sure enough, Summer became their favorite teacher — almost every year, eighth graders chose him to be their middle school graduation speaker.

“And it happened over and over again, every year," Felchle said.

Now, 33 years of Kenai Middle School classes are remembering their favorite teacher, who died earlier this month. He was 64.

Summer lived a rich life out of the classroom, too, as a father and avid outdoorsman. He commercial fished in the summer and loved spending time in Seldovia and Haines, where he owned a bed & breakfast for 25 years.

But teaching is perhaps his greatest legacy. A Facebook group called “We Love Mr. Summer's Class!!!,” now blossoming with tributes, has almost 900 followers.

“He was the standard,” Felchle said. “And when teachers looked at him — I know I certainly did, along with other teachers that were there — I tried to live up to that standard for sure.”

Ian Uponen had Summer for history in 2003.

“I always felt that he treated us like equals, treated us with a lot of respect,” he said.

Uponen said he knew what to expect heading into his class — the jokes Summer reused on the annual ice fishing trip, and the life skills he taught, like his famous method of remembering grocery lists.

“He is somebody who made me look forward to class,” he said. “I was excited to go to his classroom and just see whatever shenanigans were going to ensue.”

Kenai Middle School Secretary Christie Holmes said it makes sense that Summer loved teaching history, because he loved learning the history of a person.

She said every conversation with him was a chance to learn something new.

As for what she learned — “Life is a gift. Don’t sweat the small stuff," she said. "Everybody’s a jerk sometimes. And you can find the most wonderful family in the people that you least expect."

Summer’s time on earth was hard-fought. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 22 and beat it, twice.

Holmes and Summer got close when he had a motorcycle accident in 2017.

"Everybody jokes about him having nine lives,” Holmes said. “And he had a lot of gratitude.”

His sicknesses didn’t keep him from enjoying the outdoors. Summer was an accomplished climber, getting the climbing wall in at Kenai Middle and coordinating climbs of Denali and Mount Aspiring in New Zealand to raise money so kids with cancer could go to outdoors camps.

Fellow local outdoor enthusiast Pete Sprague said Summer and their friend Bob Hempstead once saved him from getting crushed by a boulder while on a climb at Byron Peak.

Afterwards, Summer and his family would come check in on Sprague, to see how he was doing.

“They’d come over and check up on me, just really cared for me quite a bit to make sure that I was doing OK,” Sprague said. “I really owe my life to Bob Summer.”

And then there was Skyline Trail. Friends and students could reliably find his trusty sticker-bespeckled Subaru parked in the Skyline parking lot, every weekend. He told a reporter in 2010 that he used the climb to think about lesson plans for the week.

Felchle said as Summer's health waned near the end of his life, he opted for less difficult terrain. Still, he cherished his time outside.

“He lived close by where I live. And I would just see him from time to time, just taking a slow walk with his wife,” Felchle said. “And I know that Bob always valued time. And I think it’s one of the things that made him such an effective teacher. Because that’s what he wanted his students to value, as well.”

Friends will celebrate their time with Summer at a memorial this Saturday at the Kenai Central High School auditorium at 10 a.m.

Then after — in true Mr. Summer fashion — there will be a memorial hike up Skyline.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.