By Michael Buhler
Gary Engels made more than just an impact inside the classroom during his three-decade career as a teacher at Campus High School.
Engels, who taught English at CHS, died Aug. 5 after a long battle with cancer. He was 61.
“He was a very caring teacher,” CHS principal Myro Regier said. “He could connect with a wide range of personalities. The big thing with Gary is that he cared about people. It didn’t matter if it was a student or a teacher, he cared about people. He was a very good person.”
Engels taught at Campus from 1977 to 2004 full-time, then taught part-time until he retired in 2008. He also coached baseball at CHS.
Kelli Tullis (nee Cox) graduted from Campus in 2003 and teaches fourth grade at Gardiner Elementary in Wichita. She credits Engels for inspiring her to want to help others and said that she was truly devastated at the news of his death.
“His class was my favorite because he had such a good sense of humor,” Tullis said. “I was working late several nights a week and some days I really just didn’t want to go to school, but I always looked forward to his class. He had a way of getting me to work when I’d rather be sleeping or talking to friends.
“I remember him always calling me Miss Cox. One day I asked him why he didn’t just call me Kelli and he said that he wanted to show me the same respect I show him. When it came time to graduate, I invited him to my high school graduation party. Just when I thought maybe he wouldn’t come, there he was knocking at the door with a bouquet of flowers. He was always there to encourage me.”
When Tullis went to college at Wichita State to become a teacher, she was asked to write a letter about why she wanted to teach. She wrote about Engels and later sent him a copy of the letter.
“He sent me a thank you card and said that when you teach, you always hope you make a difference in your students’ lives but you never really know for sure,” Tullis said. “I saw him over the years. I worked at K-Mart while in college and he often shopped there. He would always come to me to ring him up and he always wanted to know what was new in my life.”
Debbie Wurfel teaches special education at CHS and knew Engels for 28 years. Engels’ son, Jake, was a special-needs student in Wurfel’s class.
“Gary liked working in the special-needs classroom,” Wurfel said. “He really enjoyed the kids. He’d help anytime he could. He would attend Special Olympics and he worked in the two life skills rooms. He would sub anytime he could. Gary always had that in him. He just enjoyed working with kids. He had that knack to work with young people.”