Independence Alumni Association recognizes ‘Educators of Excellence’

by Laura Bednar

The Independence Alumni Association recognized industrial technology teacher Michael Foor and the late biology teacher William Taylor as “Educators of Excellence” during its annual awards ceremony in March.

Foor has been with the Independence district since 1990 as the industrial arts teacher at the high school and middle school. He studied industrial technology at Bowling Green State University and graduated in 1987.

He helps students work on wood, electric and other building projects, teaching them to safely use tools. The alumni association noted that Foor encourages students to think in new ways and builds their confidence in figuring out how to complete a project.

A presentation about his career documented that he has taught over 90 students per year for the last 34 years, totaling about 3,100. He also coached wrestling, golf and football at Independence for 20 years, while obtaining his masters at Kent State University.

Joanie Mencl, former Independence teacher, nominated Foor for the recognition, noting that her daughter played under Foor on the eighth-grade football team. “He was an outstanding coach. … She felt comfortable and part of the team,” said Mencl.

Several of Foor’s former pupils sent messages about their experiences with him. Jordan Suvak ’01 said he took shop classes for eight semesters in high school and regularly utilizes the skills he learned. He is a pilot for Delta Air Lines and said Foor taught him aerodynamics.

Said Joe Balewski ’07, “Your guidance and encouragement meant the world to me,” adding that a stepstool he made in Foor’s class is in his son’s bedroom.

J.J. Iula ’13 played football for Foor and said he set up times to work with coaches after fumbling, and Foor became a mentor and friend to him.

Sean Kuczmarski ’21 said, “I learned how to enjoy everything around me. [Foor] was smiling, joking and sharing his experience.” Even when students made mistakes, Kuczmarski said Foor had a stern kindness instead of rage.

“He demonstrated genuine care for every student who entered his classroom,” said Sadie Habeeb ’22.

In response to the presentation, Foor said, “You need good raw materials to start a project,” explaining that good people and families in Independence were the materials that made the job fulfilling.

William Taylor was a science teacher, department chair and activity adviser in Independence Schools for 44 years. He developed the 50-acre Community Outdoor Education Center/Land Lab that students still use today. He founded the Independence High School Biology Society, of which he was adviser for 39 years.

During his career, Foor earned a variety of awards: Outstanding Biology Teacher of Ohio by the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1968, a special award by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in 1972, Outstanding Conservation Award in 1974 from the Ohio Sierra Club and a Nature Conservancy Award in 1979. He passed away in 2012.

Russ Fortlage ’55 said Taylor stayed in his home for many years while he was teaching, and students were constantly visiting him to ask questions, tell stories or seek advice.

Former students sent messages about Taylor. Len Srnka ’64 said Biology Society field trips he attended on Saturdays helped him decide on a science career. He has a PhD in physics and is the chief research scientist at XM Mobile.

Marty Schmidt ’71 has a PhD in Engineering Geology and helped Taylor, along with other students, to transform the former Nike missile site into the Land Lab by building trails, constructing pavilions and conducting research projects. “[Taylor] was instrumental in providing me with the tools for continued scientific growth,” he said.

“The work ethic he instilled in us will go on,” said Ron Shadrack ’75. He attended the opening of Salt Fork State Park in 1972 with the Biology Society and ran into Taylor at the park 40 years later when he was working with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Taylor’s legacy extends beyond his students. Julia Sheppard ’22 was awarded a memorial scholarship in his honor to attend Ohio University, Taylor’s alma mater, for environmental studies. She expressed her appreciation, saying she met Taylor near the end of his life, and he told stories about nature and other science topics.

The alumni association is accepting donations to plant a tree and install a bench in Elmwood Park in Taylor’s honor. For more information or to donate, visit ∞

Bill Taylor teaches during a fall field trip to Mohican State Park in May 1974. Photo from school display album.

On our cover (photo): During the Independence Alumni Association’s “Educator of Excellence” awards ceremony, one of the teachers recognized was industrial technology teacher Michael Foor (middle) standing with his family (l-r) parents Dick and Melina, and wife Stacie. Also recognized was late biology teacher William Taylor, shown teaching a class in the mid-1970’s. Photos by Laura Bednar.