Remembering John Esterle, my high school math teacher who taught me so much more

The following article was written by Bob Heleringer, Trinity Class of 1969, and published in the Courier Journal on Wednesday, March 15. The copy was taken directly from:

In the summer of 1978, I was running for a seat in Kentucky’s House of Representatives. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as your first try for public office. I was 27, unmarried, no hobbies and so politics was my sole reason for living.

Except on this day. As I campaigned door-to-door up Chatham Road, in the 21st precinct of Louisville’s Second Ward, I was no happy warrior; for I knew that at the end of that long and winding road was a house where a John and Sherry Esterle lived. Although the Esterles were both registered Democrats and I was a Republican candidate, that was the least of my concerns. John Esterle had been my sophomore-year math teacher at Trinity High School and I had done my level worst all year to make his debut in the teaching profession quite unbearable.

To say that I have always hated mathematics is to utter an understatement on the scale of saying Ukrainians don’t care very much for Russians. In school, I always excelled in History, English, Literature, Creative Writing, Religion, even my typing class! But for math, and its poor step-cousin science, I swore the minute hand on that big classroom clock never moved. Comedian Billy Crystal likes to say, “Where there’s humor, there’s hope.” So, in Math class, I auditioned lots of improv stand-up material which− presto! − got me ejected from some classes.

In 1967, John Esterle was a brand-new teacher − his older brother, Dennis, was already a renowned fixture of Trinity’s Math department, but he only taught the algebraic geniuses among my brother classmates. It was understood that I was never going to be found within three time zones of any class taught by Dennis. Saved from one Esterle brother, I ended up with another, John.

In one of our first encounters, when Mr. Esterle was facing the blackboard, I lifted the back window slightly to allow a huge wasp to fly in and buzz around the classroom. As I intended, this produced exaggerated hysterics among the students (this is high comedic art when you are 16) before the insect chose Mr. Esterle’s left eye as a final target. Somehow, he survived both the wasp and my semi-regular distractions to teach Math and make lots of other contributions at Trinity for the next 39 years, a distinguished career that earned him enshrinement in the school’s Hall of Fame.

As I approached the Esterle residence prospecting for votes, I prayed that at least the husband might not be home. Alas, both Mr. Esterle and his slightly bemused wife answered my timid knock. They listened patiently as I stammered through an apology 11 years in the making. With a wry smile, this generous man not only said he would vote for me but, to my amazement, even asked for a yard sign. Were those church bells I heard ringing throughout Hikes Point?

If having me as a student was not punishment enough, a generation later Mr. Esterle found our son, Tommy, sitting in his classroom. At a conference convened to discuss Tommy’s inherited aversion to his father’s least favorite subject, the chagrined teacher opened the proceedings by saying, “Well, I see it runs in the family.” Faced with either open hostility (like father) or mere disinterest (like son), Mr. Esterle never gave up – all he ever asked was that his students let him take them on a journey.

John Esterle died on Feb. 25 at the age of 78. At his funeral at St. Martha Catholic Church, his daughter Kyran Hoff eulogized a loving father who brought the classroom home to her and two brothers− apply maximum effort to everything, he said, be it school, sports, jobs, parenting, life. She talked about Dad dropping her off at Sacred Heart Academy before her school even opened so he could get to Trinity early to tutor his kids that were struggling. There was the tenderness she saw a devoted husband bestow on his beloved wife, spontaneously serenading her with the Four Seasons song “Sherry” on special occasions or for no occasion at all. For a man who never knew his own father − John’s Dad died before he was born−John Esterle was the consummate father.

This was the remarkable man I tormented when he was just 23 years old and I am so very sorry for it. What an opportunity I wasted. Perhaps some parents reading this will encourage their children not to make that mistake and will instead follow a wise teacher on a journey into a subject/discipline they may not like but will pay an enormous dividend later.

Speaking of earthly journeys, John Esterle has now completed his and may I respectfully echo the simple, unadorned farewell of his Trinity family: “Well done, Mr. Esterle; well done, sir.”

Bob Heleringer is an attorney and a former Kentucky state Representative. He can be reached at

More News

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This