Nate Olson
Nate Olson

February 24, 2017

Ted Edwards found humor in most everything, even his own funeral. Roughly 25 years ago I vividly remember sitting in his classroom laughing hysterically with my classmates as he detailed his end-of-life plans.

“You know how when everyone goes by the casket they say, ‘Oh, he looks so good,’” he said. “Well, I am going to have a tape recorder in the casket that says, ‘I don’t look good. I am dead, stupid.’”

And that was Ted, or at that time Mr. Edwards, in a nutshell. Unfortunately, he did succumb to the flu last week at 78, and his funeral was Thursday. It is a sad time for thousands of Carroll High School alumni who attended his classes during four different decades.

Ted, who came to CHS in 1970, was a student’s dream and an administrator’s pain in the rear. If there was anyone in Carroll who didn’t like him, it was probably one of his former bosses. He always had one foot toeing the line and wasn’t much of a fan of authority.

However, his bold technique of bringing history to life through his personal adventures made it a favorite subject of so many.

There were many social media posts this week from former students who said they were inspired to teach or coach because of Ted. He was a successful baseball coach early in his career in Carroll, and was the longtime junior varsity boys basketball coach for the Tigers. He coached football in his early years at Dallas Center. Those experiences were often told in the classroom, too.

It was the yarns he spun that made me want to bring a bag of popcorn and a pop to class. Sometimes, it was like watching a TV show; it was so entertaining and a lot of times the stories weren’t being chronicled for a test but just side notes to capture the time period. For example, how he disliked Kool-Aid because his mother didn’t use enough sugar due to rationing during World War II.

No matter the era, the two stories that most alumni came to associate with Ted were blood balls and a fake murder that was staged in downtown Storm Lake, where he grew up.

Ted worked part time at the meatpacking plants in his hometown during the summers when he attended what is now Buena Vista University. When the blood from the plant sat around it coagulated, and it could be made into balls. Ted and some of the other workers used to have blood-ball “fights” and create all kinds of chaos.

The other story was hard for even a naïve teenager such as me to believe, but Ted swore it was true. It was one of his staples, and he told it magnificently.  He claimed that he and some friends staged a fake murder in downtown Storm Lake in broad daylight. They used an old, black Ford that was stored in one of the friend’s barns and didn’t have license plates.

Several of the friends piled into the car and had another friend, dressed in a trench coach, equipped with ketchup packets, waiting on the street. The black car screeched to a halt and one of the boys jumped out and fired a starter’s pistol at the friend dressed in the trench coat. He fell to the ground, faking his own death, and others in the car picked him up and threw him in the vehicle and sped off to the awaiting barn.

According to Ted, witnesses reported the fake crime and police investigated to no avail. The local newspaper even printed a story about the event. None of the boys revealed the secret, and it remained a mystery.

I was a few years from becoming a reporter, but I still had an inquisitive mind. I wondered if even after all of those years if the statute of limitations had passed. “Maybe he shouldn’t be telling that story,” I wondered to myself. And how in a small town like Storm Lake did something like that remain a mystery for decades?

Even though I was skeptical, I and everyone else wanted to believe it, and we knew if anyone could pull something that grand off, it would be Ted and his friends, who we suspected were as clever and mischievous as he was.

Both of those stories were told as we studied life in the 1950s. It was just added color to keep us engaged. It worked. The stories and Ted’s fun-loving ways unlocked many a mind. I often thought, “Man, if only Mr. Edwards could teach math.” It was my academic kryptonite and my least-favorite subject. I figured there was a way that he could A) Make it easier and B) Make it more fun. I know it would’ve been fun for sure.

I love sports, so naturally I loved hearing about Ted’s coaching and playing days. He gave us good insight on why, at that time, the Carroll/Kuemper rivalry had ceased. He recounted many brawls that occurred in the parking lots and the increased police presence.

One of the best sports stories he told was when he was a sophomore reserve on the Storm Lake High School basketball team. He and a friend played sparingly during varsity games, so Ted decided the pair should wear just their warmup suits and not bother with game uniforms. The friend agreed, and they took their seats at the end of the bench. The only problem was, Storm Lake trounced their opponent that night and the sophomores were needed for mop-up duty. When the coach called for them to enter the game, Ted had to explain they didn’t have their uniforms on. Oops. The coach was understandably livid and ran the youngsters into oblivion the next day at practice.

Even though the atmosphere in his classroom was light, no one crossed Ted. Or if they did, they didn’t again. His wit was sharp, and no teenager was a match. If you liked to talk like I did, he would give you a “Lock jaw Ole (my nickname then), now.” One more of those, and you were going to be embarrassed.

The more classes of his you took, the more you knew how much he cared. That was a common sentiment I heard from the guys who played on his teams. He loved kids, and he loved teaching and coaching them. He taught us to think critically and voice our opinions.

He also always knew how to say the right things and made you feel good about yourself. That was never more apparent than the day he really comforted a great friend of mine. The night before there was an incident at a district tournament basketball game that led to his dad being ejected from the gym. He was not looking forward to going to school the next day and facing potential ridicule from classmates.

Enter Ted. “Hey, your dad did something I could never do in all my years of coaching. He got kicked out of a gym. I had been trying to do that for years.”

Everybody laughed, including my buddy. It was exactly what was needed to break the ice. Ted knew he was hurting, and he made a difference that day.

From the jocks, to the nerds, to the burnouts to the bandies to the cheerleaders all types and generations of students loved him. He was revered, and it didn’t stop after high school as we found out via social media this week. Some of us were fortunate enough to know him away from the classroom after graduation. He attended many a graduation party and wedding reception, like mine, along the way.

Like my dad said last week. “He was your teacher, but he also became your friend.”

That’s why I admittedly shed a few tears last Saturday. I felt for his wife, Sandy, who was a longtime third-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary School and a saint of a woman. My heart also went out to Ted’s younger son and my good friend, Tyler.

He is five years my elder and referred to as my “Little Big Brother” because at 6-2 I tower over his 5-5 frame. My sympathies go out to them and Ted’s older son, Brad, and daughter, Kelly, who I didn’t know well, and all of his grandchildren.

Ted was part of what was great about Carroll, Iowa, and my, and everyone else’s academic experience. He is part of our memories. He shared good times and was there for us. He was our teacher, mentor and coach. You don’t forget people like that.

His funeral Thursday was more of a celebration of life not a mourning of death. It was a celebration he planned many years ago with the idea of planting that tape recorder.