Diana Martinez remembers well how she got to know Martin Powers.
At least three days a week, he'd be typing away at the Gail Borden Public Library, where she worked. One day, she approached him and discovered he was working on a mystery novel about vampires. It was set in a small river town, perhaps not unlike the town he lived all his life in, Elgin.
Contact information ( * required )
Martinez was among scores of friends, family and co-workers who remembered Powers on Monday for his passion for literature and his job as an English teacher at Kimball Middle School in Elgin. He was found dead Sunday night at age 50 at his home.
The coroner's office has not released the cause of death, but Dave Powers said he believed his younger brother died of a heart attack.
Though he wasn't her teacher, Powers came to mentor Martinez in fiction literature. That was typical of how he often went above and beyond his assigned duties. While teaching for 24 years at Kimball, he also coached basketball and directed numerous plays there. He also taught challenge and gifted classes.
Principal Alan Tamburrino said Powers was a well-respected teacher and colleague. "His students loved his classes due to his respect for them, his use of challenging vocabulary, and his love for debate," he said in a statement. Funeral arrangements were pending.
About 20 students gathered Monday outside Powers' home to honor his memory. They staged a small memorial on his front walk of flowers, memorabilia and 2-liter bottles of his favorite beverage: Dr Pepper.
One such student, Mahairy Martinez, 14, texted her friends about the gathering. Martinez, who will be a freshman at Larkin High School next year, recalled how he would sing and dance the tango -- all to encourage her to dance in a school play.
Tiffany Sexton, 16 and a former student, said she remembers her seventh-grade English teacher for his tough love. "I was pretty bad in school, and he was really hard on me because he believed in me -- and I really appreciate that," she said.
Some former students started a Facebook group in 2009 in honor of their mentor.
"He is a character of almost epic Hollywood-movie-like proportions, and is one of the coolest 'dudes' around," said a post on the Mr. Martin Powers Appreciation Society Facebook page.
The site includes a video of him reading "The Tiger's Roar," a poem he wrote in honor of the school's 50th anniversary in 2010.
Powers held a master's degree from Northwestern University and could have gone anywhere and done anything, but he chose to enrich the lives of the students at Kimball, his brother said.
"He was extraordinary ... someone who always had a moral compass that pointed north," Dave Powers said.
That was just a part of his strong personality, Diana Martinez said.
"Mr. Powers is a great guy, maybe misunderstood by a few, but he was very loved and he will be greatly missed," she said recalling the blunt honesty with which Powers interacted with non-students.
Former student Alexis Zwerenz, 16, shed light on her favorite teacher's gruff sense of humor. "He was someone that messed around with you and made fun of you, but it was always taken as a joke -- never offensively," she said.
Added Principal Tamburrino, "Mr. Powers will be forever remembered and dearly missed by a multitude of students, parents and colleagues. This is a sad time for the Kimball community."