Late educator impacted education across state


Nate Schnellenberger

FERDINAND — When retired Forest Park Junior-Senior High School teacher Nate Schnellenberger passed away earlier this month, he left behind a legacy in local and state education that will last for decades.

Schnellenberger taught science, physical education and drivers’ education at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School in Ferdinand. He coached junior varsity boys basketball at Forest Park and later was head coach of the varsity squad. He also coached eighth grade girls basketball.

While he was still teaching at Forest Park, he began his work with the Indiana State Teachers Association — the state teachers union — and eventually served two three-year terms as president. In his retirement, he continued to serve the ISTA on various boards and committees.

“He was an exceptional teacher and an exceptional representative,” said Ed Walston, a former Forest Park teacher and close friend of Schnellenberger.

Throughout his life, Schnellenberger impacted many people, and in his passing, his wife, Beth, has felt an outpouring of support from people who knew her husband. In order for everyone who knew him to pay their respects, there will be a celebration of life service at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 13.

Beth expects a large crowd at Nate’s celebration of life. She’s already heard from several people who have shared stories of how Nate impacted their lives. One lady, Beth recalled, stopped by the Schnellenbergers’ home to drop off flowers. The lady told Beth that her daughter had Nate at Forest Park and that he influenced her daughter to become a nurse.

“He wanted to do that,” Beth said. “He wanted to touch people’s lives. He always said to make the world a better place, and he did that.”

Lance Becher of Ferdinand is another of Nate’s former students. Becher played basketball under Nate’s leadership and remembers him as a good leader who taught his players by example.

“He taught you how to be responsible for your actions and how to be a good sportsman,” Becher said.

Becher recalled that he could be very competitive in sports, and sometimes that competitiveness caused his temper to flare. Nate was always good at calming him down and reminding him that you can be competitive, but you still have to be kind, Becher recalled.

In addition to his impact locally, Nate also played a role in shaping education at the state level well beyond his two terms as ISTA president.

Current ISTA President Teresa Meredith served as vice president under Nate. Now, she credits him with teaching her many lessons about leadership. She remembers his motto being, “If you mess up, fess up and fix it.”

“He wanted to do the right thing from the beginning, but was quick to react and change if he got new information,” she said. “That’s an important lesson for any leader.”

Nate also impacted ISTA’s incoming president, Keith Gambill. Gambill was president of the Evansville teachers union when Nate was president at the state level and has served two terms as vice president under Meredith. Gambill remembers Nate as a leader who listened to the people he was leading and focused on including them in decision-making.

“He wasn’t interested in the work being driven top down,” Gambill said. “He wanted to make sure the members had a say.”

That’s something Gambill hopes to exhibit in his own presidency when he takes office Aug. 1.

Two days before Schnellenberger passed away, the ISTA renamed the Pacesetter Award in his honor. Now, the award is the Nathan G. Schnellenberger Pacesetter Award. It honors educators who have shown outstanding courage, commitment, innovation and dedication to advancing the state of public education in Indiana.

That description fits Nate’s service to education perfectly.

During his tenure as ISTA president, the state legislature and office of former Gov. Mitch Daniels were making changes to the public education system that are still affecting schools today. For many, it seemed like a shift away from public education toward private education. Looking back on that time, Nate’s colleagues remember him as a dignified leader who represented them and their interests well at a contentious time.

“He did a lot to protect public education in Indiana at a time when politicians were trying to make a very strong shift to private education,” said Walston. “In my opinion, public education is basic to our democracy, and he was a protector of public education.”

Nate is survived by Beth, his wife of almost 44 years; daughter Emily (Scott) Reed, Otwell; son Ryan (Tara) Schnellenberger, Huntington, Arkansas; eight grandchildren; brother Allen (Shari) Schnellenberger, Williamsville, Illinois; sister-in-law Alma “Jeanie” Schnellenberger, Clarksville; nephews and nieces.

He was preceded in death by his parents Albert Schnellenberger, Margaret Schnellenberger Seidl and Arthur Seidl; brothers Jerry, Joe, Charles and Othmar Schnellenberger; sisters Marilyn Dixon, Sharon Burke, Mildred Schats and Marie VanWinkle.

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