Longtime Duluth educator Vance Hopkins fondly remembered after death | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Longtime Duluth educator Vance Hopkins fondly remembered after death

Friends and colleagues remembered Vance Hopkins on Thursday as a caring educator who returned to his hometown to help new generations of Duluth students succeed.

By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune

Friends and colleagues remembered Vance Hopkins on Thursday as a caring educator who returned to his hometown to help new generations of Duluth students succeed.

“He was like a brother to me,” Duluth School Board member Mary Cameron said. “I know he touched a lot of kids within the school district.”

Hopkins, 61, who served in various administrative capacities with Duluth schools over the past two decades, died unexpectedly on Wednesday, the Duluth school district confirmed.

At Ordean East Middle School, where Hopkins was assistant principal, teachers told students about Hopkins’ death during an extended homeroom period at the beginning of the day, school system spokeswoman Katie Kaufman said. Social workers, guidance counselors and psychologists were at the school to help support students and staff, she said.

During their lunch period, students and staff wrote condolence messages on banners spread across tables.

“You made a huge impact on my life!” one student wrote.

“Mr. Hopkins was amazing,” wrote another. “He helped everybody.”

Denfeld High School students also were told on Thursday morning. Hopkins was co-assistant principal during the last school year of Central High School, 2010-11. Many of the students from that school went on to Denfeld the following year.

“He was a joy to be around,” Duluth Schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth said of Hopkins. “He had a passion for life; he had a passion for education. He cared deeply about kids and his colleagues.”

Local civil rights activist Claudie Washington said he had known Hopkins since the late 1960s.

“He was very concerned about the education of our kids and also about the treatment of our kids within the system,” Washington said.

Hopkins grew up between Duluth and the Twin Cities, Washington said, and married a Duluth girl, Martha Brown. They lived out of state for a number of years before returning to Duluth in the early 1990s.

He began with the Duluth schools in 1993 as a teacher and desegregation leader at Central High School. He was academy director at Washburn Edison Charter School from 2000-06 and then returned to the school system where he served as assistant principal at Ordean Middle, Central High, Woodland Middle and Ordean East Middle schools.

Hopkins, a father to four children and a grandfather, was “a strong father and a religious figure,” Washington said.

Vernon Green, pastor of Christ Temple Victory Center, said he and Hopkins “grew up together” in the West Duluth church. About six years ago, Hopkins started a separate church, God’s Way Temple in Superior, Green said.

“He believed in connecting people together,” Green said. “He was concerned about African-American students here in Duluth. … One of his big things was that if you want things to change, you’ve got to employ African-American people.”

Hopkins was a unifying force during Central High School’s last year, said Nathan Glockle, who was the other assistant principal during that year.

“I know that that was something that Vance was really proud of, that whole merger,” said Glockle, now the principal at Laura MacArthur Elementary School. “Vance was the heart and soul of a lot of what we did up there.”

Hopkins had an infectious spirit that students embraced, Glockle said. “The kids loved him. … He was a pillar in the community with those kids.”

Cameron recalled Hopkins bringing peace and rationality to sometimes-heated school desegregation meetings.

Andrew Wallin graduated from Central High School in 2008 when Hopkins was an assistant principal there. Last year, Wallin was a lunch monitor at Woodland Middle School where Hopkins was assistant principal in that school’s final year. Hopkins had the same effect on middle school students that he had had on high school students, said Wallin, who now attends the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

“When he would walk into the cafeteria at lunchtime, there would be this calm that went into the lunchroom,” Wallin said.

Yet Hopkins always had a smile on his face and could laugh and joke with students, Wallin said.

That was a side of Hopkins that Green also remembered.

“He was always happy-go-lucky; he always had a joke,” Green said.

Glockle said he kept a file of what he called “Vanceisms,” such as, “Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you,” and, “You’re like a cool breeze coming from a buffalo farm.”

Hopkins also was known for his singing, often leading in the Civil Rights anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at Martin Luther King Day celebrations, Washington said.

The two men would stand next to each other in community choirs. “Vance was assigned to keep me in key,” Washington said.

They also loved to fish together, Washington said.

Hopkins was involved in numerous community activities, including the boards of Woodland Hills and the United Way and on the African American Men’s Group, Washington said.

The cause of death wasn’t announced. Hopkins had diabetes and high blood pressure, Washington said, but hadn’t seemed unwell the last time he saw him.Longtime Duluth educator Vance Hopkins fondly remembered after death | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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