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Elder mourns beloved teacher Mark Klusman

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Mark Klusman. Courtesy photo.

By Patricia McGeever

He was hard to miss, that tall, lanky man with the shoulder-length gray hair and beard. Mark Klusman stood out, though he preferred to stand in the background.

He graduated from Elder High School then returned a few years later to teach. He was in his 51st year as a faculty member when he died the day after Christmas. His death has pierced a hole in the purple heart of the Elder community.

“He was involved in so many things people were not aware of,” said Elder principal Kurt Ruffing.

Things like rehabbing houses in Over-the-Rhine, or the community cleanup effort he was taking part in Dec. 9, when he was hit by a car. Its driver did not stop. Kayla Wilson was caught three days later, and charges against her were upgraded when Klusman died.

“He gave his life doing what he felt called to do and that was community service,” said nephew Matt Klusman.

He said his uncle always showed unconditional love, always gave 110 percent, and never judged anyone. As he lay in the hospital, Klusman expressed concern for the young woman who hit him.

Matt Klusman said his uncle’s biggest mission in life was to inspire young people.

Victor Pennekamp was one of them. He said he had a fairly debilitating speech problem. “During a time when I had no one and was no one, he made sure I had a friend,” Pennekamp wrote.

“I don’t think I could ever repay him for that alone, nor could I explain how much it really meant to me.” Pennekamp said Klusman helped him stop hating himself for his own shortcomings.

Many have been reflecting on Klusman’s Christ-like nature.

Roger Rosen taught at Elder for 46 years and Klusman was even in his wedding party. He calls his friend the kindest and gentlest man he’s ever met.

“I used to tell my students, if you ever want to see what Jesus was like, go to Mr. Klusman’s class.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by another colleague, Chuck Knepfle. When faced with a complicated decision, “I would ask, what would Mark Klusman do? I would use that as my gauge,” said Knepfle.

Those who knew Klusman describe him as a disciple of goodness, strength and tolerance. And he looked the part, too.

“He had the long hair, beard of Samson, Moses and Jesus,” said Paul Seiler, Elder class of  ’82. “He also had the strength of Samson, the leadership and faith of Moses and the outlook and ideals of Jesus.”

Seiler knew Klusman as a family friend, teacher, coach, mentor and neighbor. Klusman rode his bike to work at Elder and when Seiler started at the school, he rode with him.

“He was so fit and I was this little 80-pound freshman, I’m sure I probably slowed him down,” Seiler recalled fondly.

Elder High school plans to hold a day of service in honor of Klusman in the spring. It will be followed by a pizza party. That was Klusman’s wish.

Two students designed T-shirts that feature words and phrases that describe Klusman arranged into the shape of a beard. Another shirt features the words, “My Life was Inspired by Coach Klusman.” Money from T-shirt sales is going toward a scholarship fund in Klusman’s name.

Shirts are available at ShopElderHS.org/spirit-store/mens.

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