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Forrest Willey was an educator, coach and administrator at Central High School in Alexandria. He’s one of 112 educators honored at the new Memorial to Fallen Educators at the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas. He was killed in a school shooting in Grand Rapids in 1966. This photo was taken by Willey’s nephew, Stephen Bakke of Edina. (Contributed)

Memorial honors teachers killed on-the-job

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Memorial honors teachers killed on-the-job
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Last Thursday, a memorial was dedicated to education professionals killed in the line of duty, and a man who once taught in Alexandria was among those honored.

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Forrest Willey is honored at the new Memorial to Fallen Educators at the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas.

Willey was an educator, football coach and administrator at Central High School in Alexandria in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

He was killed in a school shooting in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1966.

THE SCHOOL SHOOTING

On October 5, 1966, a 15-year-old student at Grand Rapids Middle School brought a loaded .22 caliber pistol to school and shot and seriously wounded one of his intended targets, a 14-year-old boy.

Willey, then 58, was the director of secondary education at the school and when he came to the scene, he confronted the boy and attempted to get the gun away from him before anyone else was shot. Willey was shot multiple times and collapsed.

The boy fled the school property and after firing a few shots at police from behind a tree, finally surrendered his weapon.

Willey died eight days later. He left behind a wife and five children.

NEPHEW ATTENDS DEDICATION

Willey’s nephew, Stephen Bakke of Edina, attended the dedication ceremony for the Memorial to Fallen Educators last Thursday on his family’s behalf.

“As they read the names [on the monument], that was really emotional for many people,” Bakke said, adding that the ceremony was nicely done.

A dozen dignitaries, including U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Ruthanne Buck and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, spoke during the ceremony.

“It was very dignified and important and I’m really glad I was there,” he said.

Bakke was in college when Willey was killed and recalled his uncle being a matter-of-fact man with a wonderfully immense presence.

“He commanded respect, he had a calm personality and he was a leader-type person,” he recalled.

Bakke said his fellow teachers and students said over the years that Willey was a great tutor and mentor.

ABOUT THE MEMORIAL

The Memorial to Fallen Educators is the only national tribute of its kind and provides a permanent tribute to educators killed on the job.

The inspiration for the memorial reportedly came after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, where six educators were among those killed.

In all, 112 educators have died in the line of duty as far back as 1764, when schoolmaster Enoch Brown reportedly lost his life during a Lenape Indian attack in Pennsylvania.

The Memorial to Fallen Educators is located at Emporia State University in a plaza setting featuring a limestone retaining wall, walkway, benches, donors’ wall and patio.

Reporter's note: On June 19, Echo Press reader Jerry Glisky suggested this link (http://www.columbine-angels.com/grand_rapids_high.htm) be included with this article. It's a 2003 article from the Pioneer Press, which provides further details of the Grand Rapids school shooting.

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Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133
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