Jim Balthazor had a passion for everything he did. For more than four decades in Russell and Hays, that included teaching science and music.
Balthazor, 69, died last Sunday in Russell. He retired from teaching at Russell Rupenthal Middle School in 2012. After 34 years in the Russell school district, he then taught both junior high and high school classes at Thomas More Prep-Marian.
"He had a passion for everything he did, every day," said Rupenthal principal Gaylon Walter, who knew Balthazor for more than 20 years as a fellow teacher and coach, then later as an administrator. Walter coached football with Balthazor for three years early in his career.
"His love for kids, I believe, is why he coached," Walter said.
It was science and vocal music, however, that Balthazor was most known for during his teaching career. He started a wildlife learning project at Rupenthal. Native grasses were planted, there was a greenhouse and vegetables were grown.
"He created the whole thing," Walter said. "It was just a blank slab of nothing. Over the years, he created this cool, little place."
Balthazor created beautiful music through his students. Anne Wasinger, a senior at TMP who has been part of school musicals and community theatre, remembered how Balthazor always was willing to help a student become better.
"We mainly got close over music," Wasinger said. "He was so selfless. Anytime a student wasn’t learning a song, he was always ready to invite them in early in the morning. There were countless afternoons and early mornings I was in his room rehearsing over and over for roles I got in musicals. He was very, very dedicated and passionate."
Jensen Brull, a sophomore at TMP, like Wasinger had Balthazor as a teacher since seventh grade. He was involved with Science Olympiad and Monarch Music, a ministry of music involving student performances. Brull plays the drums in Monarch Music while also singing in the choir for Balthazor. Upon learning of Balthazor’s death Monarch Music members reflected on what Balthazor meant to them.
"All of the kids in Monarch Music gathered and shared our fondest memories," Brull said.
For Brull, it was concert days in junior high. There was pressure to perform, but Balthazor made everything better.
"He was super nice to us, had a fantastic personality under pressure," Brull said. "He was a super, great leader."
Walter said Balthazor loved both science and music, but added that "music never left him."
Balthazor left an impact on Walter’s three children who learned from him, including one who is now a music teacher. Balthazor left an impact with all his students, including a personal one for Wasinger.
"I go by Annie; my full name is Anne, " Wasinger said. "Mr. Balthazor, all the years I’ve known him, only called me Anne. He always called me Anne."