Scholar, Teacher, and Cresskill Cougar – Remembering Mr. Kline
September 25, 2018
As the bell rang to usher in another period on an ordinary Friday, weary students eager to begin the weekend filed into a classroom where they were met with a unique sight.
Instead of the quizzes, essays and worksheets with which most classes wrapped up the week, the pupils were greeted by a grinning man bearing a board game called “Caveman: The Quest for Fire.”
Even though it was already Saturday in their minds, the students would spend the next 45 minutes laughing and learning inside the classroom of Cresskill High School’s most fervently spirited teacher, Mr. Stephen Kline.
On July 5, the Cresskill High School community was shocked and shaken by the passing of Mr. Kline. Tragedy struck as he jogged around the high school track where he had long been a fixture, doing laps after school, over the summer and even on weekends. He was 50 years old.
Earlier this month, students and faculty returned to school, their hearts still heavy from the loss. But the mark Mr. Kline left on the school he loved remains very much intact, in memories held dear and anecdotes and stories still shared with wistful smiles and misty eyes.
“No one ever before or ever after will volunteer as much as he did,” Ms. Santoro said, reflecting on the selfless dedication and hours spent helping students and leading programs that she said made Mr. Kline part of the very foundation of the school.
With a demeanor Mr. Kress described as both gentlemanly and “old school,” Mr. Kline brought an infectious enthusiasm to the school he loved. His trademark cookies, featuring butterscotch bits and dark chocolate (which he insisted had the strongest cocoa flavor), were always in demand. Mr. Kline’s booming voice, heard over the PA system at Arch Shaw Memorial Field, heralded every tackle and touchdown made by the Cougars.
In the sanctuary of his classroom, where he taught history, government and, early in his career, Latin, model soldiers, mockups of ancient battles, and boxes of historically themed board games were spread about like tools strewn around a master carpenter’s workshop. They were the implements he used to share his passion for learning, with an intellect Ms. Stein described as “scholarship unaccompanied by elitism.”
“You go into teaching because it’s a calling, because you want to help people,” Cresskill Schools Superintendent Mr. Burke explained, “and that was Steve.”
Mr. Kline was a fixture at events connected to the school, whether they were scholarship awards, sports banquets or extra-curricular club occasions. Every year, Mr. Kline attended the World Language Honor Society Induction ceremonies and would proudly congratulate the students.
Years after he stopped teaching Latin, Mr. Kline was a regular at the Montclair State University French Day, even chaperoning students.
Mrs. Buzharsky, who credited Mr. Kline with introducing her to the annual event, said faculty in the World Language wing “always considered him a permanent member of the World Language community.”
As faculty members recalled, their colleague didn’t have to be lecturing about ancient Rome to have fun. Mr. Mejia remembered how his friend served as advisor of the board game club, and that the two of them would spend time “chatting about strategies and techniques in games.”
Mrs. Cavins’ favorite memory of Mr. Kline was when he stormed the dance floor at the prom last June.
“He looked like he was having the time of his life, having fun, surrounded by the students he cared about so much,” she said.
Mr. Metz, who also teaches social studies, looked back fondly on the times he announced football games alongside Mr. Kline; “They were the best. It was fun – it was a pleasure to do it with him.”
Mr. Verderese looks back on the fun times he and Mr. Kline shared at Cresskill – everything from pushup training to an epic fundraiser Sumo match that left him exhausted and impressed by Mr. Kline’s athletic prowess.
“If we can all just take a little piece of Mr. Kline and put it into how we live our lives at CHS, we’d be better for it.”
Mr. Timochko will never forget the friendship he had with Mr. Kline.
“He helped me build my son’s playground,” Mr. Timochko said. “We ran a trail race together, a 5K. We just did a lot of stuff outside of school.”
Students valued Mr. Kline’s wise and caring counsel, given unselfishly, either before or after the bell rang.
“There were days when I would stay hours after school with him just talking about life,” said senior Nicole Bianco.
Peleg Merin called Mr. Kline “the perfect teacher.”
“Every single thing, even if it wasn’t school related, you could talk to him about, and he’d know exactly what to say to maintain your confidence,” the senior said.
Omer Sarfati, also a senior, remembered Mr. Kline as a teacher who “was always available for extra help,” and who helped him start the Brain Games club in his sophomore year.
“It’s funny because I really only had him for one class in 8th grade, but our bond lasted so much longer than that,” said Alison Pratt.
Sofia Debrot had Mr. Kline for eighth grade History class, but remembers being greeted warmly in the hallway for years to come.
“He has taught me life lessons that I will have with me forever,” she said. “Overall, I can say that no teacher has impacted me as much as Mr. Kline did.”
“He was always accessible even outside of the classroom,” said Megan Slattery, who had Mr. Kline for three years. “He came to my confirmation, and he came to so many sporting events for so many people, and he was just full of spirit.”
“He really just helped me grow as a person each year and always encouraged me,” she added.
Born in Boston, Mr. Kline moved with his family to Spartanburg, S.C. at age two, and later relocated to Williamsport, Pa. Throughout his youth, he played Dungeons and Dragons (a pastime that he picked up from his father), vexed his teachers with his knowledge of trivia and became his high school’s valedictorian. Along the way, he earned a nickname from his less scholarly high school football teammates that, in the spirit of self-deprecation and humor, he insisted be spelled wrong: “Bukman.”
Those same teammates helped their cerebral pal win a senior year election to be a student member of the school board in a memorable caper his mother recounted from her home in Williamsburg, Va.
“A lot of kids had no interest in this and they just threw the ballots, unmarked, in the wastebasket” said Janette Kline. “One of the football players, at least one, gathered the empty ballots out of the wastebaskets, and marked them for Steve. Guess who won!”
After high school, Mr. Kline attended the United States Naval Academy, class of 1990, and was in the 20th Company. He served as a damage control officer, patrolling both the Gulf Coast and the Persian Gulf. Mr. Kline’s academic prowess served the Navy well, when, according to his mother, he acted as a French translator for the ship captain when a foreign dignitary visited the vessel.
“When he was in the Persian Gulf, the captain and some of the other officers were dining with a local dignitary, and no one from the ship spoke the dignitary’s language” Janette said. “However, the dignitary spoke French and Steve conversed in French with the man, and interpreted for the captain.”
After serving in the Navy, Mr. Kline attended Rutgers University, where he earned his teaching degree and embarked on a second career – serving his country in a different way.
Because of his military service, Mr. Kline was older than most rookie teachers when he came to Cresskill High. Mr. Massaro, who had joined the staff a year earlier, recalled the first time they met. Mistaking his younger colleague for a student, Mr. Kline was so impressed with Mr. Massaro that he let on he had the impression he was talking to the senior class president, Mr. Massaro chuckled, recalling the incident.
Over the following fifteen years, Mr. Massaro came to deeply respect Mr. Kline, describing him as man who could connect with any student, even those with rough exteriors. Cresskill High will benefit if “all adults in this building could do that to a fraction of a degree to which Mr. Kline did it,” he said.
Mr. Kline’s dedication to CHS was commemorated with a moment of silence at the football game on Sept. 7, and a bench made in his honor will soon adorn the school’s courtyard.
In a poignant tribute that doubtless captured the feelings of students and faculty alike, one teacher reflected on the man whose presence is missed but spirit felt in the hallways of our school this year.
“Let’s just say,” Mrs. Galan said, “I laughed a little harder, cried a little less, and smiled a whole lot more when I was around him.”