Steven Gail was not an average substitute teacher. He was beloved by all, affectionately called “Mr. G” by his students and revered for his ability to connect with those of all ages. He was considered a legend in the William S. Hart Union High School District where he regularly taught for 16 years.
“I think he had a unique connection with the kids and it was true from seventh grade through twelfth grade,” said Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart District.
On Wednesday, 66-year-old Steven Gail lost his battle with a rare form leukemia called T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia, which affects only some 250 people per year.
When he was first diagnosed in July 2010, students from Saugus High School rallied around the teacher with a piggy bank fundraiser organized by then-seniors Madeline Altieri and Breanna MacLennan. The students raised more than $2,100 for him in just one week.
“I can’t believe these kids,” Gail said of the fundraiser in November 2010. “Of all the things they could spend their money on. …”
Despite his illness, Gail continued teaching for several years at Saugus High School until two weeks ago, according to Saugus High School Principal Bill Bolde.
“Mr. Gail was a very unique individual and you don’t see substitutes like him very often,” Bolde said. “He had a way of affecting kids in a substitute role that you don’t normally see.”
He would sport his signature backwards hat while engaging his students with his songs like “The Periodic Chart Chemistry Doo-Wop” in chemistry class and his own rendition of “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel in geography class.
But his most common tune was “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
“He was known for his singing at the end of class, and even if the school day was over or if it was lunch time, he would stay after to sing to us and everyone would stay too,” 2011 Saugus High School graduate Altieri said. “No one was in a hurry to leave the classroom when he was there.”
Bolde said Gail was one of a kind and could influence all kinds of students from those who liked school to those who were struggling in school.
“He was the kind of teacher who made such a lasting impression on kids,” Bolde said. “It was all kinds of kids and all kinds of students… he reached out and touched their lives.”
Caldwell said the students and teachers alike would look forward to seeing him and were excited when he was in the classroom.
“I had one teacher say she always wanted to get him as a substitute, but he was in such high demand from all around the district that she couldn’t,” Caldwell said.
Before his death, more than 200 students, teachers and staff from Saugus High School created and presented a tribute video to Mr. G in which they sang and thanked the substitute teacher for his work and influence in their lives.
“Mr. G’s constant optimism and patience helped to ensure that all of us were learning and understanding materials,” Altieri said. “He cared greatly about every one of us, and by being in his presence you knew that. He radiated encouragement and was always so proud of our achievements.”
Altieri created a GoFoundMe called “Steven Gail’s Memorial” to support his wife, Olga Narozhna, and his family for his memorial costs, medical costs or “whatever else they may need.”
“Mr. Gail was the kind of person who lit up a room with his effervescent smile and personality and he did that every afternoon,” Bolde said. “He is going to be greatly missed. He’s a one of a kind, unique individual and he will be in our hearts forever.”
And, although he is gone, the countless students and teachers he inspired will remember him for many lifetimes to come.
“You know how people say, ‘What are you going to put on your headstone?’” Gail said to The Signal in November 2010. “I have a legacy. I influenced these kids. You can’t put a price on that.”
A memorial will be held for Gail Monday at The Church of Latter Day Saints, located at 27405 Bouquet Canyon Road, at noon. All are welcome to attend.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_