Longtime Prospect teacher was a 'glass half-full' guy

 
 
Updated 9/19/2016 10:00 PM
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  • Randall Knudsen, a longtime English teacher and debate coach at Prospect High School, died Saturday at age 72.

    Randall Knudsen, a longtime English teacher and debate coach at Prospect High School, died Saturday at age 72. Courtesy of Knudsen family

Even after Randall Knudsen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his love of learning continued.

The former English teacher and debate coach at Prospect High School pushed himself to continue reading novels, then short stories and poetry, and eventually children's books until he wasn't able to read any more.

"He was the most incredible 'glass half-full' kind of guy," said his daughter, Kerry Knudsen Galson. "He always talked about how lucky he was to be at Prospect, to have his family. Even after he was diagnosed, he'd say things like 'I'm not in any pain.' He really just felt an incredible sense of gratitude for his entire life."

Knudsen, who taught for more than 25 years at Prospect, died Saturday after a 14-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 72.

The Mount Prospect resident was born Nov. 3, 1943, in Melrose Park. After graduating from Proviso East High School, he studied English at Elmhurst College and then earned a master's degree from Indiana University. He began teaching first at Fremd High School in Palatine, then spent several years at Elk Grove High School, before taking a position at Prospect in 1976.

He met his wife, Polly Brothers, a home economics teacher, in the Elk Grove High School teachers lounge in fall 1970. The pair were married a few months later on Jan. 30.

The couple's commitment to education lives on in the career choices of their four children -- all of whom became teachers. Galson teaches English at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, son Andrew is a geology professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, son Brian teaches English as a Second Language at Port Chester High School in New York and daughter Susan teaches fifth grade at O.A. Thorpe Scholastic Academy in Chicago.

"He was always tinkering with lesson plans. I know that he loved to watch the Sunday morning show with Charles Kuralt. He'd tape the personal interest pieces and get kids writing about current events," Galson said.

Knudsen also loved teaching his students about Mark Twain's writing, which he said had a certain humor and playfulness to it that he appreciated. He and his wife were avid campers, and many of the places the family visited became the source of lesson plans.

At Prospect, Knudsen grew the school's debate program and built relationships with local political figures, including U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. He took his students on trips to Washington, D.C., for mock debates on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Had he not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2002, Galson said, her father would have been enamored with Facebook as a way to keep in touch with his many former students.

Knudsen spent the last years of his life at a memory care center in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, just a few miles away from the family's vacation cabin.

Along with his wife and children, Knudsen is survived by five grandchildren, a sister, and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents.

A memorial service is being planned for later this fall. In lieu of flowers, donations may made in Knudsen's honor to the Alzheimer's Association or The Crossroads at Big Creek.

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