Imagine your first day of senior year English class. It's the end of a long day in a sweltering classroom. The teacher — a tall, dignified, soft-spoken gentleman — announces he's starting the year with "The Canterbury Tales," in Middle English. The first assignment? Everyone's going to memorize and recite the first lines.|
Now, imagine that it's really fun.
This is the sort of feat that Tim Curry, longtime English teacher at Moline High School, pulled off with an infectious joy his students couldn't help but catch.
Mr. Curry died in his Evanston home on Oct. 10, leaving behind hundreds of students who reveled in James Joyce's somber "Dubliners," traipsed through Dante's "Inferno," and yes, still can recite the opening lines of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales."
"He set the tone with that," recalls Betsy Wasser, who was Mr. Curry's student in AP English during her senior year at MHS. "I didn't think it was going to be a whole lot of fun, but it was. He challenged us like that."
Ms. Wasser ticks off a list of events from his class, from reciting "Macbeth" while pretending to set a table, to visiting the University of Illinois library to research poets. "That was paradise," Ms. Wasser said. "He got us to go deeper into what we were reading than ever before. I felt completely prepared for college because of it. I never had another teacher better than he was." Mr. Curry was born in Rock Island in 1953 and graduated from Marycrest College in 1975. He met his wife, Ellen, while at Marycrest; they married in 1978, and in 1983 their son, Nick, was born.
After graduating from Marycrest, Mr. Curry taught English for Moline Public Schools, first at John Deere Junior High, then at Moline High School. Over summer vacations he earned his master of arts in English from the University of Chicago. During his 34 years at MHS he taught Advanced Placement English, advised the student literary magazine, mentored student teachers and inspired many burgeoning teachers and writers.
"I majored in English because of the time I spent in his classroom," Katie Hazen, who graduated from MHS in 1993 and returned to teach English for 10 years, said. "He was such a scholar — so impressive in all the things he studied and all his knowledge, but he wasn't intimidating at all. You always got the sense that he really thought about what you had to say."
Heather Bray describes skipping her afternoon classes but returning for Mr. Curry's seventh period AP English class because "Mr. Curry made me feel scholarly for the first time in my life. Though I'm sure he had presented that same material to students year after year, he made us feel like he was discovering this amazing literature for the first time with us."
Outside the classroom, Mr. Curry pursued his own study, particularly through three grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1984 he studied lyric poetry at Harvard. In 1990 he studied the teaching of Shakespeare in Washington, D.C., and Stratford-upon-Avon, England. In 2002, he spent six weeks studying Dante in Siena, Italy; inspired by his time in Italy, he persevered and became fluent in Italian.
Mr. Curry also worked to promote his love of literature through venues beyond the classroom. He served as a reader for the Chicago Review and a consultant to the Chicago Area Writers' Project. He also led the development of the Young Emerging Writers Program at the Midwest Writing Center in the Quad-Cities, which just completed its seventh year.
Young Emerging Writers continues Mr. Curry's original vision by offering internships for students 15 to 19 years old, in which interns attend intensive writing seminars, learn magazine production, and produce The Atlas, a literary journal of their best writing. Interns work in a professional atmosphere and receive a stipend in addition to valuable experience.
Ryan Collins was a graduate student and a member of the Midwest Writing Center board when Mr. Curry proposed starting the program.
"Working with him was one of the best professional experiences of my life," Mr. Collins said. "I was blown away by what a kind and thorough instructor he was, how much he cared about the kids."
The pivotal experience inspired Mr. Collins to work with young people and arts education. He serves as executive director of the Midwest Writing Center, in addition to teaching college courses.
Mr. Collins finds Mr. Curry's influence on high school students especially important. "He had a tremendous intellect and was such a rigorous thinker. To see that when you're in high school is pretty mind-blowing."
Felicia Schneiderhan was a student in Tim Curry’s AP English class at MHS from 1992-93. She currently works as a writer and teaches college in Northern Minnesota.
A memorial service for Tim Curry will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Davenport. Following the service, there will be time to greet the family in the Great Hall.