John loved words — wise ones, especially. If there was a motto he could use to guide his life or to offer to others, he would add it to his word bin and pull it out when the time was right.
Some phrases had a permanent home on his tongue, one of which must surely have been, “If you want something to happen: DO something.”
I remember when John first came to the old Coquihalla school for a year or two. He couldn’t believe that staff had restricted access to the paper supplies and the photocopier (which was pretty new technology at the time.)
Rather than form a staff committee to study the issue and make recommendations, he just took it up with the principal, George Tough — and all of a sudden, we all had access.
John’s time at the old school was short, but he found a permanent post at the new school for the last 20-some years of his career. He soon became known for his magic tricks for the younger students and for his rocket building with his grade fours.
His students spent many hours perfecting their rockets, adjusting, testing and learning. Then came the big day, when other classes would gather in a big circle, to see the launches. John loved to put on a show and we all loved to watch.
Older kids could see through John’s magic tricks — but all were awed by the magic of the rocket launches, capped off by the ‘poof’ at the rocket’s apogee, the successful ejection of the parachute and the frenetic scramble to retrieve the missile.
John worked hard and worked his students hard — but he knew how to have fun, too. I recall many times, when we’d get our two classes together in the gym for a game of Dr. Dodgeball. John played for his class and I joined mine and the ‘war’ was on. I developed a distraction play, tossing a high ball to get my target’s attention — then I’d follow through with a low shot. John fell for it, most times — but he always had a laugh about it, even years later.
As an April Fool’s prank in the 1990s, John and I plotted to switch the signs on the principal’s and the vice-principal’s doors. We came back in the evening and discovered the signs were stuck on too well.
No problem. We popped the hinge pins and moved the doors.
Problem: the doors were different widths, so the VP’s door had a big gap when it was closed in its new frame — and the principal’s door couldn’t even shut, in its new location. When principal George Tough arrived in the morning, he just saw the sign and figured it had been switched. Funny joke!
The joke ended when the door got closed firmly and came bouncing back in George’s hand. John and I just quietly slunk away, while the secretary called the maintenance department.
It might surprise many that John was born in the Netherlands and wasn’t even a Canadian citizen for most of his life. The tough times his parents endured during World War II no doubt influenced the way they raised their kids. They knew the value of ‘licking the plate clean’ and John learned how to make a dollar scream.
John and I both had a hard time staying retired and when I mentioned this in an e-mail last week, John offered what has turned out to be his final motto: ‘not retired, just re-fired.’
It was good to see John re-fire himself into a new career on the school board, where he championed the mobile welding program that has given secondary students a career focus. I know he was proud of the success of the program; not a lot of people get to have such an impact in their retirement years.
With sincere thanks to Barry Stewart for writing such an eloquent tribute about his late friend John Koopman and for allowing us to share his photo.