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TMP alum assumes the mantle

8/27/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

He has taught physics and math and accounting at the college level.

But one couldn't blame Chris Brull if he had a twinge of nervousness when he walked into Room 102 at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School last week.

Most of the walls in that bottom-floor room of the 81-year-old building are painted white and bare of any decoration, except for the north wall.

Hanging there above the blackboard for all the students to see are 10 championship trophies from Fort Hays State University's annual Math Relays.

Those all were won under the direction of longtime math teacher Gene Zimmer, who occupied Room 102 for the past 12 years after 23 years of teaching math at Kennedy Middle School.

There actually is an 11th championship trophy that belongs with that bunch, but the latest one won by Zimmer's crew -- in November -- is in the trophy case one floor above his classroom.

The only time a Zimmer-coached TMP team didn't win its division of the Math Relays was in 2007. That's because the relays were canceled that year because of renovations to FHSU's Memorial Union, the site of the event that has been ongoing for more than 50 years.

Zimmer was forced to retire abruptly approximately a week before the start of school this month because of health problems, leaving Principal Bill DeWitt scrambling to find a fill-in for Zimmer, who taught three classes of algebra II, as well as pre-calculus and college algebra.

"You can't replace Gene Zimmer," said DeWitt, who said Zimmer was his favorite teacher at Kennedy back in the mid- to late-1980s. "But we had to get someone to teach his classes."

First, DeWitt called on Leroy Gnad, a popular math teacher for 43 years at TMP who retired in 2007.

"He is really enjoying his retirement, his grandkids," DeWitt said of Gnad. "But he was willing to help us out, come back until we found someone. He came down and grabbed some books."

In between time, DeWitt posted the job. He said he got several quality applicants, and at the same time he thought of Brull.

In addition to being a 1989 graduate of the school, Brull taught math for a year at TMP in the early 2000s before FHSU offered him a job in the physics department.

Now, Brull is back in the classroom, trying to carry on the rich math tradition at his alma mater.

"There's a lot of history hanging over your head when you're writing on the blackboard," Brull said.

Brull attended middle school in Ellis during Zimmer's tenure at Kennedy, so he never had Zimmer as a teacher.

But he has heard many stories about him. After all, his son, Jacob, competed in Math Relays under Zimmer last year.

"You listen how much he worked and how well he structured the things so everyone could get something out of his class," Brull said.

While math usually comes easy for the whizzes on the relay teams, Zimmer's greatest legacy might be his ability to make just about anyone understand math.

"He didn't just give it to you; you had to put some effort into it," Brull said. "But he made sure he made it possible for kids to succeed if they wanted to."

Carrie Ellard can attest to that.

Ellard has lived in Germany since her graduation from TMP in 2008 and was back visiting family this month and remembered Zimmer well from her high school days.

"He would always ask if everyone understood what he was saying," said Ellard, who suffers from attention deficit disorder and said math oftentimes was a struggle for her.

"He would always be there to help me, would work with me individually," Ellard said of Zimmer. "His door was always open."