When a popular teacher was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just before Christmas last year, it sent shock waves through the Guthrie Public School community.
Jeff Munn received the bad news Dec. 11.
“It was bizarre,” Munn said. “It was the most honest thing that I’ve ever heard. It literally sucked the wind right out of me. I knew right away it was going to be a life changer.”
Many consider Munn, himself, to be a life changer — an educator of students in Grade 8, which is an important and transformative time for those getting ready to head off to high school.
“He was my son’s best teacher, bar none, and he’s a great individual,” said Brad McGrady, an educational assistant at Guthrie Public School.
McGrady, students, staff, school board officials and community members came together Wednesday at the Oro-Medonte school to show their support for Munn and to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer Canada.
During the event, dubbed the MUNN-Day Bike-a-thon, students took to local trails on a 20- to 30-kilometre ride. The event, organized by students and staff, had been in the works since March. The kids brainstormed and decided on a bike-a-thon. They also organized a bake sale, which was held Tuesday.
“It’s a school community and they’ve come together to show their support for a very special man,” said Cindy Williams, a teacher who helped organize the event with colleague Tara McGuire. “He’s fighting and we’re supporting him.”
When staff and students were informed of Munn’s diagnosis, “it really affected everyone,” Williams said.
“It was very difficult initially,” she said. “He’s very involved and coached sports. He is fun but has high expectations of the kids.”
Munn was touched by the show of support Wednesday. He wasn’t sure he was going to be able to attend the event, having received cancer treatment the day before.
Munn had been undergoing chemotherapy, but the chemo “failed,” he said. So, he has made a few trips to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto to receive injections as part of a clinical trial.
Wednesday was the first time he had seen his students since he was diagnosed.
“The students have been absolutely great,” he said. “I’ve even received cards from former students I haven’t heard from in years. That really hit home.”
Munn watched as enthusiastic students of all grades cheered and held signs with encouraging messages, including, “Guthrie will stay strong for you,” and, “Don’t give up.”
Simcoe County District School Board chair Peter Beacock did his part, too, and had his hair shaved off before the bike ride began.
“From the bottom of my heart, thanks to my family and the whole Guthrie community,” Munn said. “It just proves what type of community Guthrie is. It’s quite a humbling experience.”