Distinguished Alumni

Jack Kirstein

Mr. Jack Kirstein of Marion, NC, was inducted into the LMU Educators’ Hall of Fame in a special ceremony in The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on November 8, 2003.

Jack Kirsten attended LMU from 1954-1958 on a work program. His duties included cleaning the infirmary and dormitories, working on the farm, and operating a milk route which began at 4:00 a.m. each day.  He graduated with a degree in biology and earned minors in chemistry, physics, and education. He began his teaching career in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1958 and worked on his master’s degree which he received from Appalachian State University in 1961.  His teaching experience eventually led him to Nebo High School, where he taught science from 1966-1969.  Jack quickly earned the reputation for being an outstanding teacher and a student advocate. The personal attention he gave each pupil endeared him to the hearts of those he taught.  In 1969 he was named principal of Nebo Union School, and in 1972 he became principal of the newly consolidated Nebo Elementary School.  It was there that Jack Kirstein garnered attention of colleagues as he spearheaded remarkable achievements in student success, motivation, community service, and school planning.  He was a hands-on administrator during his twenty-one years as principal, and he personally graphed each child’s strengths and weaknesses and involved teachers, specialists, and volunteers in charting an individual course for each student’s success.  He was frequently seen in the cafeteria taking money from his wallet to give to a child who needed help, working alongside the maintenance staff on special projects, or supervising students on the weekend in the school’s gym so they would have a safe place to play.  Superintendent David Ricketts said, “He took Nebo on as his family.”  And Jack Kirstein gave his “family” 110 percent. 

Upon his retirement in 1993, a local paper said, “Hollywood legends leave their handprints on the walk of fame, but a McDowell County legend has left his influence on the hearts and minds of hundreds of children.” 

The letters of recommendation the Hall of Fame Committee received on Mr. Kirstein’s behalf are replete with anecdotes of his devotion and his efforts toward helping children in his charge.  There is also a list of community and state-level awards and recognitions that covers several pages.  Included among the honors are his Principal of the Year recognitions and the naming of the street in front of Nebo School as Jack Kirstein Circle. 

As evidenced by the testimonies of those who know him, he has lived and worked by this, his adopted creed:
“What WILL matter most one hundred years from now? It will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like.  But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”