Longtime Concord teacher, coach killed in Allenstown crash
A day after the shocking death of 66-year-old Michael Phelps, educators in Concord recalled a beloved former colleague who had a sense of humor and a natural gift of relating to his students during a 35-year career in the city’s schools.
Phelps died Monday morning after a car allegedly ran a red light and collided with his motorcycle in Allenstown.
The police didn’t announce any developments yesterday, but said Monday they believe 22-year-old Jordan Heath of Concord may have been distracted behind the wheel when her car ran the light and hit Phelps. What caused the distraction is still under investigation.
After graduating from Plymouth State College, Phelps’s teaching career started at Rundlett Junior High School in 1969. It ended with his 2004 retirement from Concord High School.
“When I think about Mike, I think about someone so full of life and so full of energy and creative energy,” said Superintendent Chris Rath. “It is very difficult to have all of that taken away so quickly and so tragically.”
He was funny and creative, and his commitment to students carried him from the classroom teaching English and onto the gridiron as an assistant football coach at the high school. He also helped advise the drama club at Rundlett and coach track and football until he was transferred to the high school in 1996. He arrived a year before the high school integrated ninth-graders and helped prepare for the transition, Rath said.
“He supported anything that could have kids express themselves and help them learn the craft of expression through writing and speaking,” said Rath, who was hired as Rundlett’s principal in 1985.
The ability to connect with students was one of the first traits former teacher Ned Bergman noticed during their first year teaching together, in 1969.
“It can be really difficult to be a first-year teacher,” said Bergman, of Concord. “I was very envious of his ability to get along with his students and not have any real problems.”
Bergman repeatedly asked Phelps to share his secret to keeping order in a room of students, only later to find it came naturally to him.
“The thing that really took him over the edge into superstardom was his ability to relate to the kids,” said Concord High School teacher Chris Makris. “If I were ever in a position to put together a teaching staff, he’d be one of my first hires.”
Phelps’s humor found its way to the classroom, in the form of classroom handstands and creative lesson plans. At the annual high school pep rally, it was Phelps who emceed to a rowdy student body.
“He had a beautiful voice, and he was enthusiastic and the kids adored him. A lot of people could do it, but not everyone could do it so well,” said high school Principal Gene Connolly. “People should remember him for his love of school and his love of education. He was part of the pulse of Concord High School.”
In 2004, Bob Pingree and Phelps were considering retirement. Both had taught for more than 30 years, and for years Phelps had borrowed from Pingree a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. At the end of the year, Phelps asked whether he could gift it to a student who had excelled in his Shakespeare class.
“That was Mike. He was a wonderful guy. He loved his job, and he loved his students and they loved him,” Pingree said.
Phelps is survived by Alice, his wife of 45 years; his son, Todd; his daughters Alyza and Amy, and many grandchildren and in-laws. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Michael’s name to the Payson Center at Concord Hospital, 250 Pleasant St., Concord, NH 03301 or to a charity or organization of one’s choice.
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)