Friends mourn loss of Trachsel

August 23, 2004|HERB BROCK

Thomas Riley decided Sunday afternoon to drop by the Boone Trail home of his longtime fishing buddy Jim Trachsel. What was supposed to be a regular visit with a friend turned into an impromptu visitation with the friend's widow.

"I was coming over here to see Jim and, when I got here, I found out he was gone," said Riley. "It was all over."

"All over" were 30 years of moments that now must become memories for Riley. Trachsel had been shot to death - allegedly by a next-door neighbor, Jack Caldwell Sr. - while Trachsel was mowing his lawn about 5 p.m., and Riley suddenly had gone from paying a visit to paying respects to Bonnie Trachsel.

Riley was one of scores of friends who converged on the Trachsel home as a sunny late afternoon faded into a darker than usual dusk and night, at least for the family and visitors. He and a handful of other close comrades were still at the home about 10 p.m. Riley and the others were still shaking their heads in disbelief more than five hours after their friend, a retired, longtime administrator in the Danville school system, had died.


"I met Jim in 1974 when I started teaching at Bate (Middle School) and Jim was assistant principal at Danville (High School)," said Riley, who now is retired. "We found out we both loved fishing, and we started fishing together."

"Some of our favorite fishing spots were down below Wolf Creek Dam (in Pulaski County) and also Lake Cumberland," he said. "We'd spend hours fishing, but also talking. He had an active mind, lots of ideas. He loved to talk and I loved to listen to him."

Dr. Larry Scott, a Danville pediatrician who had been a Boone Trail neighbor, said fishing was more than a hobby for his longtime friend. It was a lifestyle.

"A perfect day for Jim was to drop a line in the water, talk with his friends and wait for the big catch," Scott said. "It didn't matter if the big catch ever came. Jim just loved the water and being with friends."

He wanted to share his love of the water

Trachsel wanted young people to share his love of the water. He and Riley founded the Fish and Game Club at the high school several years ago.

"We would take the kids on fishing trips around this part of the state," Riley said. "Jim wanted young people to know the same pleasure he got out of fishing, not just the sense of competition in catching fish but the feeling of camaraderie you get being with friends - the same bond that we formed three decades ago."

Trachsel also wanted youngsters to share another passion of his - flying. A pilot, he created a special class for youngsters where he used aviation as a way to enliven their imaginations and broaden their horizons.

He had the class build model airplanes, taught them the history of flight and took them on field trips to the Danville-Boyle County Airport, Bluegrass Airport in Lexington and Wright-Patterson Air Base in Ohio and to aviation history museums wherever he could fine one.

Trachsel was an active member of the Danville Senior Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. He often taught classes for CAP cadets.

While he wanted to incorporate children into his flying and fishing past-times, he made them the centerpiece of his profession as a teacher and school administrator. His career in education spanned 34 years, concluding in 2000 with his retirement as principal of Jennie Rogers Elementary School, where he served for 13 years. Prior to that he had served assistant principal at the high school and in administrative and teaching posts in the Somerset and Woodford County school districts.

At the time of his death, Tracshel was a corrections officer at Northpoint Training Center, where his widow, Bonnie Trachsel, is a teacher.

"He could not stand retirement. He needed to be active, and he found that activity in a position where he wasn't too far from Bonnie," said Gail Thompson, longtime counselor at Jennie Rogers.

Thompson recalled her former boss' "devotion to education and to the kids and faculty and staff."

"He cared deeply about every child in the building," she said. "He nurtured them. He also nurtured every faculty and staff member.

"He was warm and open. If anyone ever needed anything, he was there."

"50s Day" is example of "fun atmosphere" he created

Trachsel not only wanted to create an "environment where every child, teacher and staff member could succeed, "but he also desired to develop a fun atmosphere," Thompson said. Asked for an example, she replied without hesitation: "'50's Day."

"Jim thought it would be fun for every child and adult in the building if we had a day where we would dress up and pretend like it was the 1950's, and we did it every spring," she said. "I remember coming to school for the first '50's Day, wearing a poodle skirt, and walking into his office. He swiveled around in his chair and there he was, in a black leather jacket and sunglasses. We both could not stop laughing at each other's attires."

While Trachsel was known for injecting "fun and life" into Jennie Rogers, Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland said he also had a reputation for "establishing the environment for learning."

"I first got to know Jim 20 years ago when I came to Danville (as principal at the high school) and he was the assistant," Rowland said. "From my experience with him there and observing what he did at Jennie Rogers, I found him to be dedicated to doing what he could to see that every student could succeed and to help teachers and staff in their work toward that goal.

"He was a true professional but he also was very likable, the kind of person you like being around."

Thomas Riley certainly agreed, and he already was missing "being around" his old fishing friend only a few hours after his death.

"Knowing what I do now, I wish I had gotten here earlier in the day so I could have been with him one last time," he said. "He was truly an all around good guy."

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