Cairo Association of Teachers - A Memorial

Cairo Association of Teachers

A compilation of the stories of and tributes to the passing of Steve Kohn...

CAT Tracks for May 7, 2003

As you have undoubtably heard by now, Cairo School District Number One lost an excellent teacher, the CAT lost a strong advocate, and I lost a friend last night...

The tragic news began to spread early this morning...the unbelievable news...that Steve Kohn was killed during last night's violent storms. His beloved son Daniel suffered broken arms, but his life was spared when Steve took the brunt of a chimney that literally exploded when the storm hit. His wife, Julie, was severely bruised, but (hopefully) escaped without serious injury. However, the family lost, cars, etc. I talked to many of you today and know that you share the family's grief and offer your support at this time. I have conveyed that message to Julie and have encouraged her to let us know if there is anything we can do to help.

Steve prided himself on projecting a gruff exterior. However, during my close association with him during some very trying times, I got to know the truly caring person behind that facade.

A more devoted family man you would not find. Steve and Julie were on the road constantly - afternoons, nights and weekends - attending soccer practices and matches...and never a complaint. Oh, maybe Steve did take a nap or two at lunch time...recharging the old batteries for the next excursion. And, just when he thought those active days were drawing to a close as their kids were getting older...along came Danny! But, Steve didn't miss a beat. He took an active role in helping to raise his son...instilling a love of reading and learning. The pride in Steve's voice when he related Danny's educational accomplishments was unmistakeable. And when Danny was being somewhat mischievious...well, like father, like son! I remember when Danny played hookey from Kindergarten. Steve thought it was so funny...until the next day...when Danny did it again. That's when Steve read Danny the riot act...that Danny did not decide when to stay home...that was Mommy and Daddy's decision.

One of the frequently cited "standards" for teacher evaluations is "Demonstrates an enthusiasm...a love for the subject matter." That's Steve. Anyone who ever worked around Steve knows that his love of and commitment to computers was unwavering. If something needed to be dropped from the curriculum, then take your pick...Math, English, Social Studies...but...don't even think about computers! Selfish, you say? Steve would readily agree...and would NOT be apologetic.

But...on the "selfish" note. Steve was a strong force as Chief Negotiator for the CAT. He pushed us farther than we ever thought we could go. We are better off today - financially and benefits-wise - because of Steve Kohn. Was he in it "for himself"? the beginning, maybe. But...everyone needs some type of motivation to take a high-profile, leadership position in an organization. For some, it may be that they want monetary gain, and I think Steve initially fit into that category. But what's wrong with that? I mean, that's the main reason unions were formed in the first place.

However, I had the honor of watching Steve grow. I witnessed first-hand a transformation...from an inner focus to a true concern for those he represented. During negotiations for our 1997-2001 contract, the CAT Bargaining Team was holding one of our many caucuses. During a long lull, I stepped out for one of my many caffeine breaks. Steve followed me out and asked to speak to me privately. It seems that he had redone "the numbers" on our latest that he had personally recommended to the bargaining team and the membership. Steve said: "Ron, I don't know if the Board can afford this proposal." He continued..."I can't ask the members to put their jobs on the line for something that might break the District." Folks...THAT is NOT a person "in it for himself". I responded by telling him to go over the numbers one more time. (Steve DID love his numbers!) I told him that if his concerns were confirmed, that the bargaining team could go back to the membership and explain that there would have to be a modification of our proposal. Steve "slept on it" and discovered one of the few computational errors that he ever made. He told me the following day that our proposal was indeed sound, so we stuck to it and gained one of the best settlements that the Association ever received. And, again...Steve proved beyond any doubt that his heart and mind was with the membership...maybe surprising even himself.

Steve was a key member of the Association and his expertise will never be completely replaced. that really important? If nothing else, Tuesday night should remind all of us of how fragile life is...that we need to take care of our priorities. All of us spend too much time and energy focusing on and worrying about things that in the scheme of things are insignificant.

Ex-Beatle John Lennon wrote a song to his infant son only a few months prior to being gunned down by a deranged fan. His words proved prophetic..."Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Fortunately, Steve DID dedicate himself to his priorities. Steve Kohn was a loving husband and father who leaves behind a wife and children who can only wonder how life can be so cruel. Steve's father...Steve's mother...and now Steve...all within three months! Steve Kohn loved his family...he told them so...and, more importantly, he showed them...every day. The manner in which he expressed himself might have seemed "gruff" to many, but we could all benefit from following his example...not as he said, maybe, but definitely AS HE DID!

I lost a friend last night...Shalom, Steve.

CAT Tracks for May 8, 2003


[Thu May 08 2003]

GRAND CHAIN -- A well-known and respected Cairo high school teacher was one of two people killed by a series of storms that ripped through extreme Southern Illinois Tuesday night.

Steve Kohn, 53, died at 11:40 p.m. Tuesday at his home. Pulaski County Coroner Lisa Tarpley said Kohn was trying to protect his 8-year-old son Danny during the storm when he was killed.

Tarpley said Kohn was lying on top of his son when the chimney in his home collapsed on the elder Kohn. Tarpley said the impact killed Kohn and injured his son. Both of Danny Kohn's arms were broken.

"I can't really determine the exact cause of death yet," Tarpley said. "He had several injuries."

Kohn was a computer science teacher at Cairo high school, and had taught there for 15 years. He had also taught U.S. history.

Kohn also was the chief negotiator for the Cairo Association of Teachers. As such, Kohn was involved in last year's strike by the CAT and the bargaining process with the Cairo school board. He also had served as a spokesman for the teacher's union in previous years, according to stories in The Southern Illinoisan's archives.

Ron Newell, the CAT president, fellow teacher and close friend of Kohn's, said the loss would weigh heavy on family, friends and the community.

"It's all been so sudden, everyone has been in shock," Newell said. "We're all going to miss him." Newell characterized Kohn as a dedicated father and teacher. He said Kohn was the kind of teacher who pushed kids to succeed.

"I think he was well-liked by the kids," Newell said. "I know he really liked the kids. He pushed them very hard in the area he loved, which was computers."

Newell said Kohn's interest in kids was evident with his own children. He said Kohn took an active role in making sure his children were able to participate in extracurricular activities.

Kohn had been strictly a computer science teacher for the past few years, but was slated to pick up some of the social studies curriculum next year because of cutbacks in the district.

Newell said Kohn went out of his way to make sure his students received the training they would need to pursue computer interests outside of school.

"He was very kid-oriented," Newell said.

Kohn's funeral arrangements are being handled by Wilson Funeral Home in Karnak.

CAT Tracks for May 9, 2003

The memorial service opened with tributes to a beloved father by his children, including his youngest, Danny. They were followed by a representation of the many people whom Steve Kohn touched during his life...members of his educational family, students, friends, and relatives. Appropriately, the service concluded with the personal remembrances of his wife, Julie. At the close of the service, all in attendance were invited to join the family for dinner at the United Methodist Church in Karnak.

Memorials by the Daughters of Steve Kohn:


As many of you know, we lost both of my grandparents within the last two months. I remember a conversation I had with my dad as my grandfather was getting ready to pass. I had asked my grandfather if he was scared of dying. He told me that he wasn’t. My dad said that as you get older you lose your fear of dying. It becomes more of a reality that death is a natural part of life. My father actually said that he was not afraid to die. Look at what a tribute to your grandfather we all are. He said that when he goes he knows of the legacy he will leave behind. I know now that was his way of telling me that his time was near. It brings me comfort know that my dad was not afraid to die.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that we are all put here to serve a purpose. My fathers purpose was to touch the lives of all of us here to honor him today. He was here to make sure that Julie and Danny weathered the storm.

Since I have arrived in town, so many people have told me of the wonderful person my father was and how he impacted their life. My father is a hero in the true sense of the word. I know that he is still here with us. My son said he saw my father last night, that he smiled and waved to my dad and my dad smiled and waved back. Then according to my son, Grandpa flew away. I know that he is safe and I know that he will forever be watching over me.

People tell me all the time that I am just like my dad, stubbornness and all. I am finally realizing what a wonderful thing that is. I will be forever grateful and am extremely proud that Steve Kohn was my father.


Everyone who knows me will tell you I’m a Daddy’s girl. I thought my Dad was the kindest, most caring, smartest man in the world. I thought he knew everything. So anytime I had a question, I called him. Whether it was about politics, sports, money, my job, whatever – he always knew the answer. He taught me so much. But the one thing I learned the most from my father came when I called him for advice, when I had tough decisions to make. Usually I wanted him to just make my decisions for me, but he never gave me answers. He’d just listen to me talk about my dilemma, and then he’d always say the same thing. He’d say, “Kate – Just do what makes you happy.” Simple as that. My Dad never cared about what other people would think or say about things. He never made his choices based on others, or on what would be easy, or anything like that. He just did what made him happy. He moved to this little town after spending his whole life in the big city because it made him happy. When he could have been using his computer skills on some high-paying tech job, he chose to teach school in Cairo for 15 years, because it made him happy. For him, life was that simple – you do what makes you happy. And even on this day, when we are all so sad and miss him so much, I know he’d say the same thing. And I know I’ll never have trouble making tough decisions to make anymore, because my Dad already taught me everything I need to know about how to live my life, and how to be happy.


Many people go through life carefully constructing a public façade…for appearances sake. Many times that façade is very transparent…you know the real person is nothing like they want us to believe.

However, with Steve Kohn, it was “what you see is what you get”. He voiced his opinions with no sugarcoating or political correctness. If you didn’t like what he said…if he got under your skin…he didn’t apologize. As far as he was concerned, you would just have to get over it. Where others would listen to someone express an opinion and “politely” agree or let it pass, Steve would let them have their say and then he would abruptly announce…”You’re wrong!”…and proceed to explain why. And if you got mad…if you thought he was an…well, a butthead…he’d laugh and proudly accept the designation!

But, ironically, Steve’s openness and gruffness created a public façade of its own…a façade as unreal as the one crafted by others less honest. Because Steve Kohn was NOT the uncaring, insensitive person that some would believe.

Steve Kohn had his priorities straight. He did not waste time living a lie. Steve Kohn cared about kids and family. Steve Kohn knew that kids from a small town – especially minority kids – would face a tough time when they left Cairo and entered the “real world”. The sign on his wall at school said: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.” With almost missionary zeal, Steve surveyed his new students each year…looking for the quiet types…the tentative types that might be lost when confronted by uncaring and insensitive types in the future. He took it upon himself to “toughen them up”…to get them to speak up, express themselves, to have an opinion and not be afraid to express it.

Steve Kohn had a relationship with kids that was special. Kids he trained for computers…and, more importantly…for life knew that he really cared for them…and they appreciated it. Many a former student came back to see Mr. Kohn…both at school and at his house. They were always welcome…He always had time for them.

Steve talked many times about leaving education and going back into the “real world” of business. He talked about it for years…giving a personal deadline for doing so. Yet each time the deadline arrived and passed…Steve kept coming back…a true indication that he had already reached his true calling.

This alone would make Steve Kohn’s life a success story. But, as committed as Steve was to his vocation as an educator, that zeal paled in comparison to his commitment to his family…which is as it should be.

When it was time to bargain contracts and schedule negotiations sessions, we always checked with Steve first…we tried to take his “family time” into consideration. Steve would let you know very quickly that there were certain times that were off-limits…whether it was anniversaries, birthdays, or simply to read his son to sleep. Unfortunately, we interfered with a few of those times when sessions went longer than expected…and you would just sit there and watch the toll that it was taking on Steve…as he fidgeted and watched the clock…as he phoned home to explain that he was running late…but that he WOULD be there…

Steve would come to the lounge and relate his busy schedule of practices and extracurricular activities…without a single complaint. After eating lunch in 10 minutes, he simply took a power nap so as to be ready for the next excursion. Those of us at the high school experienced vicariously the birth of his youngest child, Danny, his development, and his educational growth through stories related by an obviously proud father. And we shared laughter at Danny’s mischievous actions…knowing all the while that it was a case of “like father, like son”.

I feel very fortunate to have gotten to know the real Steve Kohn during the past 15 years. I am honored that he considered me his friend. Steve is gone but will never be forgotten. And if tragedy had to befall someone in Steve’s family on Tuesday night, those of us who knew him know that he would not have had it any other way.


CAT Tracks for May 10, 2003

One of Steve's daughters found the following article and took the time to share. Thanks, Katey!

Courageous dad is a real Superman to his son

May 10, 2003

The storms can take my house. The wind and the rain and the hail and the tornadoes can do what they will to my yard and my car and my garage and even myself.

What worries me most every time I hear the emergency sirens blare is not whether or not the worst of Mother Nature's wrath will be brought down upon me or anything I own.

I worry most about what will happen to my son.

I try to tell myself that, in the worst moments, the thin ledge between life and death, I would gladly cash in the rest of my life to make sure my son can go on.

No one knows what will really happen, how we will actually react, until that time comes.

But Steve Kohn knew. And now, so does his 8-year-old son, Danny.

When hell came to Southern Illinois in the dark of the night Tuesday, Steve Kohn didn't shrink in fear.

According to an article in Thursday's Southern Illinoisan newspaper, Kohn - a teacher at Cairo High School - was home with his family in Grand Chain when a severe storm ripped through Pulaski County near the Illinois-Kentucky border.

When things got bad, Steve Kohn and his family took cover. Literally. Steve was "lying on top of his son when the chimney in his home collapsed," the newspaper reported.

In the midst of the falling debris, Danny Kohn suffered two broken arms.

Steve Kohn was killed by the impact.

When the storm came, Steve Kohn met it face to face. When the world collapsed on him, he stood up to it to make sure his son was safe.

When I was young and growing up in Warrick County, Ind., I heard that there was a town called Metropolis in Southern Illinois. It's about 25 miles from Grand Chain.

Each year Metropolis has a celebration for Superman, the comic book hero who resided in a booming city of the same name. How neat, I thought as a youngster, that a place could have Superman living nearby.

Protection would never be a question. He was the man of steel, faster than a speeding bullet and afraid of nothing.

As it turns out, Superman didn't live in Metropolis. Superman was a teacher at Cairo High School, married with a son.

- Ryan Reynolds

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