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Al Bock

Lincoln North Star teacher Al Bock helps set students up with Chromebooks during a school readiness day in July. Bock died in January, only months after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

The First Gator — the history lover and teacher, the family man and longtime voice over the loudspeaker at North Star High School athletic events — is gone.

Al Bock, a longtime North Star teacher forced to retire after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, died Tuesday. He was 58.

“They always called him the First Gator,” said his wife, Kim Bock. “He just loved the place. That was his home. He believed in the kids, he believed in the administration, he believed in the faculty there. He believed in what the school stood for and he did what he could to make it a better place for the kids.”

Bock retired last fall after being diagnosed with multiple system atrophy, a disorder similar to Parkinson’s disease but more widespread and with symptoms that can progress more rapidly.

Bock’s symptoms progressed especially rapidly: His specialists said this was the most aggressive case they’d ever seen, according to his wife.

“Most people have five to eight years,” she said. “We had nine months.”

Bock had suffered a concussion when he fell during spring break of the 2017-18 school year, and doctors also diagnosed him with what they initially thought was Parkinson’s. He spent the summer working at Madonna TherapyPlus, an outpatient program, to regain his balance and strength.

He was ready to get back to the classroom in the fall, even though he’d learned by then he had MSA, not Parkinson’s, but after about a month it became too much.

His staff and students sent him off with a grand farewell — boxes of the Pop Tarts he loved, Denver Broncos memorabilia, a cake and hugs and a standing ovation at an assembly.

Wednesday, the Lincoln Public Schools crisis team was on hand to help students and staff.

“He loved everything North Star," Principal Ryan Zabawa said in a message to families. “He will be missed.”

He’ll be missed at Madonna, too, said occupational therapist Gina Mailander and physical therapist Amber Herrington.

“We’ll remember Al for his quick wit, positivity and determination to return to his love of teaching,” Mailander said.

His wife said he didn't just love teaching kids history, he loved teaching them how to learn.

“He thought it was so important for kids to learn history,” she said, and he believed that "if we learn from (history), hopefully we can be a better society.”

His passion for history was clear to Kim from the beginning. They’d met at a softball game in his native Colorado and married three months and three days later.

“Everything just clicked and it was wonderful,” she said. “I guess I just knew. I think it was our third date he asked me to marry him. It was at a hamburger joint. It was called Around The Corner."

They’d been married a week when he told her he wanted to supplement his English degree with a teaching certificate so he could teach history. 

They moved to Nebraska — where Kim had grown up — after he earned his teaching degree and he landed a job at Pound Middle School. He stayed there until 2003, when North Star opened. He headed the social studies department there for most of his tenure.

The Bocks had three children, Callie, Emily — who just started teaching — and Dan. Their granddaughter, who loved to watch football with her grandpa, is nearly 2.

Three weeks ago, he went on hospice care, and the whole family spent the last week with him. 

“It was just amazing this last week,” Kim said. “He was so happy that the kids were all there.”

There will be a celebration of life at the Lancaster Event Center at 10 a.m. on Feb. 2, followed by a memorial service at 3 p.m. at Good Shepard Lutheran Church, 3825 Wildbriar Lane.

Family would like memorials to go to the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools, to a memorial fund in Bock's name to support North Star students with scholarships or paying for advanced-placement tests that allow students to earn college credits.

It seemed the most fitting way to honor the teacher they loved, said his wife. 

“He loved his students,” she said. "I never heard him talk about a 'bad kid.'"

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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