GREAT FALLS — Great Falls educators and students are reeling over the death of longtime teacher, mentor, and friend Ken Maddox.
"He's just irreplaceable,” said East Middle School Counselor Carly Swingley.
“Kenny’s just a treasure,” said East Middle School Teacher and Boys Athletic Director Lance Olson.
Both colleagues described a man with a larger than life personality and a true heart of gold. “He had a major, major impact on a lot of lives in this town,” said Olson.
For more than 40 years, Maddox inspired staff, students, and the athletic community in the Great Falls Public School District with his passion to connect with everyone.
“He was the ultimate educator,” said Olson. “He was willing to set a kid straight; he was willing to help a kid out. It didn't matter what the kid needed when the kid needed it, Kenny was there at a drop of a hat and ready to help out.”
Not only was he a role model and mentor, Maddox was often a guardian for students who needed protection and guidance the most.
“He would come in my office and lay down on my bench and he would call me ‘Swing’,” said Swingley. “And he'd say, ‘Swing - we have a problem, we need to figure this out,’ and he was coming in to talk about kids that he didn't know how to get through to or situations where we just collaborated.”
Swingley said his sense of humor and their daily talks are what she misses most. They’d grown to have a relationship filled with inside jokes and humor.
Lance Olson taught and reffed youth sports alongside Maddox for over 20 years. He said he’ll remember their conversations driving to and from games or in locker rooms and believes Maddox's lasting impact on the athletic community will continue to be felt.
“He coached both of my kids at Great Falls High,” he said. “He actually coached my wife when she was in middle school and he was early in his career.”
Maddox passed away unexpectedly Saturday; MTN News confirmed with family members his death was due to COVID.
Both Olson and Swingley recall seeing the longtime educator and coach just weeks ago, before the school switched to remote learning as cases rose. “When you hear news like this you don’t believe it,” said Swingley. “And it's still hard to wrap my mind around it.”
His passing comes just over a week after a student at East Middle School was fatally shot. Swingley and Olson say this is an especially difficult time for staff and students, who are working to heal from two unexpected tragedies.
“East is struggling right now,” said Swingley. “We’re a strong staff and we’re gonna get through this- but right now it’s hard.”