Walking into the building and turning down that long hallway, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been gone, it’s like you never left,” said an attendee at the dedication of Larry Paul’s memorial bench at Clearwater Valley High School last Friday. The sentiment was also shared by guest speakers Dennis Kachelmier and Cheryl Tousley as they recalled several of their own memories of working with Larry.
Clearwater Valley High School Principal Adam Uptmor dedicated the bench and encouraged everyone to stay awhile and share their own remembrances. As Larry’s family so aptly put it, their dad would have liked the fact that the bench was something functional that brings people together.
The story of how the memorial bench came to pass is really quite special and began with a 2004 CV graduate who heard of Larry’s passing last fall. “I’m the youngest of eight children,” began Russel Smith, owner and proprietor of Smith Steelworks in Spanish Fork, Utah (https://www.smithsteelworks.com/).
“All of my siblings had Mr. Paul as a teacher and as I grew up, I would hear them retell the stories from his class. I was really excited to finally have him as a teacher,” said Smith.
“My first class with Mr. Paul was 8th grade choir; I couldn’t and still can’t carry a tune to save my life, but he was so patient and kind with me. I remember going to Genesee for a choir competition and he placed me right in front of the microphone. It definitely didn’t help my singing abilities, but it helped me learn confidence; something that has contributed to my success in business and in life,” added Smith.
The sad news of Larry’s passing affected the entire community on some level or another and Smith was immediately moved to come up with a way to keep Larry’s legacy alive at the building he spent three-and-a-half decades teaching in.
Smith put in a call to Uptmor with an offer to build a memorial bench to honor Larry; at which point Uptmor reached out to Larry’s widow Crystal with the amazing news. Smith was willing to donate his time and even pay for shipping the bench to Kooskia if the community could raise the funds for materials. The responsibility of coming up with a design for the bench was to come from the Paul family.
“We wanted something that would honor and reflect the life of Larry at CV,” said Crystal.
Ultimately, the mastermind behind the design came from Larry’s daughter Beth who chose a picture of Larry playing his trumpet during pep band. “A large part of Larry in the community was his pep band, he was known for having an exceptional pep band,” said Crystal. “Beth asked Adam to find a copy of the CV fight song and have the first line look like it was coming out of Larry’s trumpet.”
Once the design was given to Smith, the magic of bringing it to life began. “I told [Uptmor] that I would pull out all the stops and put as much time into the design as needed,” said Smith, who added that it took about 30 hours to prepare considering the complexity of the design with Larry’s image and the fight song.
“To have someone want to create a tribute to our father [and husband] this way was such an honor to us,” said the Paul family.
Smith Steelworks manufactures several products for the Outdoor Parks and Recreation Industry, including benches, picnic tables, trash receptacles, pavilions, and laser cut metal signs.
“When my nephew passed away in a swimming accident we wanted to make a memorial bench that would commemorate his life and help to keep his memory alive,” said Smith. “It was on that bench that we pioneered the process of taking pictures, art, and designs and converting them to laser cut files. We have been recognized nationally for our ability to capture emotion and feeling from life altering events and portray that in our custom memorial benches.”
With the bench plan and design well under way, the news of the need to help fund it lit up social media. “I know Mr. Paul’s impact that he had in this community, the people that he taught, and I knew with no time at all we would raise that money,” said Uptmor. “And sure enough, as soon as we put it out on Facebook, we had checks coming from all over the United States!”
Impact indeed. Larry’s children shared a smattering of their experiences with the man, the teacher, and the friend loved by so many: “I think our aspect of thinking about him was how he spent multiple nights a week at school. Our entire lives included Dad’s involvement with the school. The school and music were always a part of our life. We would hang out with him while he was at pep band, traveling with him to music trips such as marching band, district games, and district music festivals. We think back to looking forward to catching the bus to the high school to hang out with him and the other teachers after school. As kids, we spent HOURS waiting on Dad to finish talking to others, be it at school or out in the community. He always took time for everyone and loved a good story. There was many a day when we were the last to leave.”
Larry enjoyed broadening the horizons of each and every student, and one of the ways he could accomplish that was by taking the kids on musical tours. He wanted to expose them to people and life outside of Kooskia; experiences they may not have had otherwise.
“One of the most favorite parts of his job was being able to watch kids grow from kindergarten through high school,” said Crystal. “Being in a small town allowed him to meet and follow each and every kid that passed through CV. He taught music class for K-4th grades, then band for 5-6th grades and band and choir for 7-12th grades. He enjoyed following the lives of even those who were not in band or choir. You knew who Mr. Paul was even if you no longer had him as a teacher. For him, it wasn’t just about teaching music; it was about teaching life lessons through music. He wanted to leave a positive, lasting impact on all he came into contact with.”
Strolling past the fitting tribute to Larry that now graces the Clearwater Valley High School arcade, one can almost hear music coming from the grand red bench. “He was always whistling or tapping out rhythms,” said Crystal. “There was always a song in his head and his heart. He also loved to worship God through his trumpet. You could watch him become one with the music, pouring out his soul and love through his trumpet.”
The Larry Paul Memorial Bench dedication was attended by many community members who gathered around the cherry red bench to share stories and anecdotes; an activity that would have greatly pleased Larry.
“He would always sing the song he made for me “Vivian, Vivian, Papa’s special girl named Vivian,” said Larry’s granddaughter.
“We would always pick the guitar together and he let me play his trumpet,” said Larry’s grandson Trevor.
“I envision [the bench] as a gathering place for people to sit and talk, and hopefully at times to share in remembrances of Larry,” added Crystal.