Long time Juneau resident Michael John Kirk – always known as Mike — has died.
He passed away Thursday morning (Aug. 22) at Wildflower Court.
Kirk was a math teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School for many years, collected friends from all walks of life and loved his adopted town of Juneau. He even volunteered for KTOO radio – hosting a program in the 1970s about school news called “Gilbert Speaking.”
Kirk celebrated his 89th birthday earlier this month. Long-time friend Judy Crondahl said she knew he had many friends, but they sort of “came out of the woodwork” during his last few months.
“He spent several months in a nursing home in Seattle and then he spent about month here in Wildflower Court and both places said they had never had anybody who had had so many visitors consistently over time,” Crondahl said.
Mike Kirk was born in Germany in 1924 and his family moved to England. After World War II he went to the University of California at Berkeley. In the 1950s he came to Juneau to teach high school math.
That’s where Crondahl first met him in 1963, when she came to the Capital City to teach at JDHS.
“And when I got married a couple of years later he stood in place of my father and gave me away at the wedding,” Crondahl said. “My children have always called him Grandpa Mike, so it’s a real familial relationship we had.”
Crondahl’s children never took math from him; she said he tried to avoid teaching his friends’ kids.
Carl Brodersen’s father was a student in a Kirk math class at JDHS in the 1960s. They reconnected a couple decades later.
“I was a little kid and he was this wise old adult with this charming smile and he would always give me books on holidays. He was very intense that people would develop an appreciation for books and literature and writing, and he opened my mind to an awful lot of different ways of looking at the world and interesting things about it that I probably never would have encountered if not for him.” Brodersen said.
Former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho graduated from JDHS in 1966. He calls Kirk an unconventional math teacher who commanded the classroom and had high expectations of his students. But Botelho said he related more to Kirk as his debate coach. He said his stress on preparation was most important.
“So that if there were some issue that was postulated that might be formulated in five different ways that you knew what each of those ways were and you would have a response to each of those ways. It wasn’t simply the brilliance of your impromptu responses, but your preparation,” Botelho said.
Botelho said Kirk was well-prepared and often critical of people of authority who he believed were lazy in their thinking.
Kirk once estimated that he’d taught at least 5,000 Juneau children over the years, according to Brodersen. He had a particular reputation in the district:
“He was very proudly the Bain of the district’s administrators,” Brodersen said.
That included seldom missing a school board meeting. Botelho said Kirk was never shy about speaking out on what he thought was flawed educational policy. He also took the former mayor to task sometimes.
“He had little hesitation chatting with me about government when he thought something was afoul,” Botelho said.
A memorial service will be held for Michael Kirk, but no date has been set.
(Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Berkeley, California and add this photo.)