RENSSELAER — Roger Beehler was one of those teachers his students loved and remembered long after their high school days were over. For 25 years, Beehler taught art classes and coached the baseball team at Rensselaer Central High School. Roger Beehler died in 2016 but has remained an inspiration to his students, especially those who studied art with him.
Beehler earned a bachelor of science in physical education with a minor in art from Ball State University, followed by a masters degree in education in 1961. He coached baseball, basketball and football and taught art in grades one through 12, first in Michigan and then at two schools in Indiana.
In 1969, Beehler continued his teaching career in Rensselaer, where he introduced the first baseball program at Rensselaer High School. He taught art and coached baseball, and when he retired in 1993, he had devoted 35 years to his profession.
“Roger was one of the easiest people with whom I worked at Rensselaer Central High School,” remembers retired English teacher Bill Oats. “He was friendly, helpful, and mutually respected by his students and his peers.”
The same month Beehler retired from teaching, the very first art exhibition was held in the Lilian Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center. It featured the work of Beehler’s students. Long into his retirement, Beehler continued to support his former students by attending their activities and recognizing their achievements.
Beehler’s devotion to his students left a lasting impression on many of them. Beehler was Troy Williams’s favorite art teacher, in part because Beehler welcomed his students to come make art whenever they could.
“Mr. Beehler’s art room door was always open for any artist to come in and create during free time,” Williams remembered. “I don’t believe there were many other classrooms at RCHS where kids would gather, voluntarily, to spend extra time on projects. For me, it was a valuable gift to have an open environment to share and create together.”
Williams added that it wasn’t just the art that made that extra time in Beehler’s room rewarding. It was also the way Beehler managed the art room and provided the “right amount of push (discipline) to keep everyone working…I remember many hours of valuable philosophical, life-affirming conversations.”
Many of Beehler’s art students went on to become practicing artists and still create art today. Many came back to Rensselaer to honor and remember Beehler following his death in 2016. Students brought artwork they had created under Beehler’s instruction and displayed it in the chapel of Saint Joseph’s College during Beehler’s funeral.
As another tribute to Beehler, Prairie Arts Council President Barb Lucas proposed an exhibition of work by Beehler’s former students. Retired art teacher and Prairie Arts Council board member Bonnie Zimmer agreed that it was a fitting honor. “[We wanted to feature] work by students whose lives were deeply influenced by their experience with Roger, so much so that they have gone on to have a creative career or continue making art avocationally.”
During the summer of 2017, a show titled “The Beehler Legacy” was on display in the Lilian Fendig Gallery.
Judith Beehler, Roger Beehler’s wife of 58 years, chose to honor her husband’s life and work in yet another way. In YEAR, Mrs. Beehler opened a designated endowment fund at the Jasper Newton Foundation in memory of her husband. The Roger Beehler RCHS Art Fund supports the Rensselaer Central High School Art Department. It goes toward the purchase of supplies and defrays the costs of special activities and projects.
Roger Beehler’s legacy lives on in the students he taught, but now it can also serve a new generation of aspiring artists and encourage students to explore their creativity.
The Jasper Newton Foundation Inc. is a local nonprofit organization that connects residents of Jasper County and Newton County, with causes they care about through coordinated investments and strategic grant making. It’s a way for local people to come together and solve local challenges facing Jasper and Newton Counties every day, leaving a legacy of giving in the community. By working as an advocate for the whole nonprofit sector and connecting residents and organizations across the two counties, the Jasper Newton Foundation enables a larger impact beyond what one individual nonprofit or donor can accomplish.
The Jasper Newton Foundation Inc. strives to be the “Grand Central Station” of the area as we facilitate strategic partnerships between residents who care and service organizations that need help. We strive each day to weave even tighter connections across the two-county area making the Jasper Newton Foundation a strong vehicle for real community change. #LoveWhereYouLive at www.jaspernewtonfoundation.org